- Theological Education
Rev. Jacqui Lewis - Luke 17:5-10
No wonder we don’t talk about verses 7-10 of this text. Faith the size of a mustard seed. Great. Love it. Tiny seed. Lofty idea. Preachable. Even tweetable.
But the rest? Say you have a servant (not even an employee, but a slave) and they are plowing the field or tending the sheep and they come in tired. Do you say, “Take a load off and have a bite to eat?” Or rather, don’t you insist that they, though tired, wait on you, cook your favorite meal and serve it with a nice bottle of Chardonnay or Old Vine Zinfandel?
Would you thank that tired servant because he obeyed? Uh, no. So also you people, when having done your job, you should say, “We are only unworthy servants and have only done our duty.”
I love paraphrasing Jesus. It usually helps me understand, but, what??
The disciples have asked for more faith. They have asked for it because they have been warned that if they cause a “little one” to stumble, this is a fate worse than drowning. They have been cautioned that discipleship is hard work, and wonder if they are up for it. In fact, Luke’s portrayal of Jesus in this exchange is –harsh. You want more faith? If only you actually HAD some faith, a little faith, mustard-seed size faith, you could do—well anything. And, by the way you do not!
And then, this whole slave story. Imagine you are kind of rich, and you own a slave (not six or seven but one) and you send that slave to do the work for which he is hired and he comes in tired and does not want to finish his job which is now to feed you. What? Don’t you expect him to finish his job? And do you have to thank him? Nope, he is doing what he is supposed to do.
I don’t think we like it so much when Jesus is demanding. We like to nice him up, and keep him holding up his hand in that beatific way. Placido Domingo, kind of wimpy, you know? When Jesus gets demanding, when he acts like the gospel is demanding, that God’s way is demanding--it kind of gets on our nerves.
It unnerves us.
People, if we are going to claim an identity found in Christ, it demands something of us. It is rigorous. It is taxing. This faith is not about some passive, nice-ish life on earth with heaven promised afterward. This faith demands that we live like Jesus.
It demands that we serve our God, not expecting gratitude in return but serving IN gratitude. That we be joyous at the opportunity to live for God. That we tend to the flock that belongs to God. That we set a table full of food, clothing and life’s necessities before God’s people. That we make sure they have health care, and safe places to live, learn and grow. That we ensure there is clean water to drink, and a planet on which to live and co-exist.
Oh this faith is demanding. It calls us to be like Jesus. To Love God with all we have and our neighbors as ourselves.
And I mean all the neighbors. The ones we know well, the ones who are like us, and the ones who are strangers. We are called to love the ones who are strange to us, even the ones from whom we are estranged.
And this kind of love is not wimpy and namby pamby. It is strenuous. It is patient. It is curious about the other’s story. It makes room for difference and delights in it. It speaks the truth and demands the truth. It cannot abide injustice and will work peacefully for it, 24/7.
Oh, Jesus, you are a sneaky dude. But I get it now. You talk about faith the size of a mustard seed, and then throw in this story about slaves and hard work, and we are left scratching our heads. It is such hyperbole, we think you don’t mean us.
But you do. We are those servants called to be like you. To work hard at love. To follow you into the act of revolutionary love. Following you means opening our hearts, our minds, our budgets, our sanctuary doors and our borders to those who are strange to us, those who are not like us.
Because our God loves us, and is calling us. And our God loves them, too.
Hmmm. Got it.
Bible Study Questions:
1. If you have ever planted a tiny mustard seed, chances are you have been amazed by the resulting plant that overtakes your garden. Can you think of a time when you took a leap of faith, how ever tiny, and the results were overwhelming?
2. In the Luke passage, Jesus has a word about the right way to treat a slave from his historical context that are troubling in the 21st century. If we imagine ourselves as servants for Jesus, seeking his word first before everything, what does that look like in our everyday lives? How do we put even mustard seed faith ahead of our own desires?
3. Spiritual formation can be baby steps. Sometimes we must simply obey as a servant until greater understanding and clarity comes. Our mustard seed sprouts and becomes strong as we grow in our spiritual walk. We know that through the work of Jesus we are brothers and sisters, allies, through divine adoption. As allies of Jesus, how do you take your personal understanding of faith and justice into your community?
For Further Reading:
Scenes From Holy Week
Encouraging Youth To Engage and Study Theology
Duke Expands Research on America's Religious Congregations
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