This parable is placed at the end of the first ten verses of Luke 17 and it’s placement there is significant to understanding its meaning. Luke 17:1-10 is a passage on False Teaching, Forgiveness, Faith, and Service. One commentator (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series) writes, “a warning about sin and false teaching serves as a contrast to more positive exhortations about showing forgiveness, having faith, and serving without demanding a reward.”
This passage is based upon an awareness of the importance of community in the Christian life. Following Jesus is not a private experience but one that is lived out with others. Thus correct teaching, sin, forgiveness, and serving well are important.
The parable of the master and servant comes at the end of this section in Luke following the teaching on forgiveness and faith. The teaching is about following Jesus and being a disciple. Out of our faith, there should be service and willing and joyful service at that. See the contrast between a willing attitude to serving and the conceited attitude of the Pharisee in Luke 18:9-14. Clearly the Pharisees expects a reward.
This parable uses the imagery of master and slave (doulos). Slave is sometimes translated servant throughout the New Testament. It was a word Paul chose to describe himself, a slave of Christ Jesus. Obviously Jesus is the master and that will never change. We are his servants, slaves, and there is much work to be done in serving others and serving the Lord Jesus Christ.
We know, and sometimes need to remind ourselves, that we are called to be humble servants. God is not obligated to us as if we were an equal. Instead we are obligated to the Lord because he is our Creator and Redeemer. From time to time, we should ask and pray, “Can I be a willing and eager servant of the Lord Jesus, today? Lord, show me how to serve this day.”