"No-one can Serve Two Masters!"

Revd Chris Wood

One of the funniest plays I remember seeing was entitled 'The Servant of Two Masters'. It was based on an Italian Classic farce from the 19th Century (translated into English!), where the key character is the exceptionally quirky and comical servant.

We discovered quite early on that the servant was constantly complaining of an empty stomach, and kept finding ingenious ways to satisfy his hunger, and then consuming everything and anything in sight. As my mother would remark: 'His eyes were bigger than his belly'.

The servant offers his time and resources to a young rich gentleman traveller (actually a woman in disguise - but that's another sub-plot in the play), and fulfils his responsibilities to his master reasonably well, but more so if there is an advantage to his aching stomach. All seems to be progressing reasonably well, until the opportunity presents itself that enables him to take on the extra role of being a servant to another wealthy traveller - hence 'The Servant of Two Masters'. He sees this as an opportunity to increase his food intake, but inevitably gets himself into all manner of scrapes, thus creating a farce of side-splitting proportions.

Inevitably the servant's main problem is how to satisfy the orders of two masters, as each makes constant demands both at the same time and with the expectation of instant attention. This is then complicated by other characters appearing on stage and discretely handing him letters, money, instructions etc. with the words "This is for your master" without specifying which one.

Just as you think that matters couldn't get any worse, the servant discovers his two masters are staying in the same hotel, and are in fact, searching for each other, although he is busy trying to keep them apart. The most famous set-piece of the play is the scene in which the starving servant tries to preside over a banquet for his masters and their guests with both groups on different parts of the stage. He tries to juggle with food presentations and drinks without arousing the suspicions of the other, while desperately trying to satisfy his own hunger. Increasingly he moves around the stage in ever decreasing circles, although fulfilling most tasks with impeccable timing. It comes as no surprise that he's eventually found out when everything collapses around him - he could only keep up the pretence for so long - but the 'masters' are reconciled, and, in the process, he is forgiven.

For me the play highlights an incredible truth that is there both in the Old Testament as well as in the Gospel teaching. Early on we discover God saying through the Prophet Moses: 'You shall have no other gods but Me' (Exodus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 5:6) thus establishing the special relationship between a chosen people and their God. To help in their decision-making, they are encouraged to make right choices where all are offered a choice of life or death - the right way being to be obedient to God in all things, which, in turn, will bring with it blessings (refer Deuteronomy 30: 15 - 20).

Jesus was only too aware of this truth when He warned that: 'No one can serve two masters; for either they will hate the first and love the second, or they will be devoted to the first and despise the second. You cannot serve God and Money' (Matthew 6: 24). Clearly, in this case, He wanted to warn against the striving for wealth and financial reward at the expense of our inner well-being. But then Jesus broadens this challenge when He put a question to His twelve followers at a time when many were abandoning Jesus because of the demands of discipleship. Peter affirmed his faith and trust when asked to make a choice, by declaring 'Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God' (John 6: 68 - 69). Peter makes a commitment to have only one Master, and that is Jesus Christ his Lord and Saviour.

We know the responsibility is ours too - we are faced with the same challenge, and must make our stand, knowing we are encouraged to do the right thing in God's eyes and serve Him alone. We are left in no doubt that this is a tall order - but the benefits are out of this world!

God Bless


October 2018