This morning’s lectionary reading from Luke is just weird.
It definitely seems like two separate thoughts and at first do not seem to have anything in common.
The passage is found in a section of Luke which we refer to as just ‘Some Sayings of Jesus’…. Seriously, it is kind of like the writers of the Gospel were getting together and reminiscing about Jesus after he died and just started coming up with these phrases that he said…. Remember when he said this…. remember when he said that…..
Remember what Jesus’ said about forgiveness. Remember when Jesus said we are to forgive people who wrong us. Yes, and he even says that if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and says seven times that they repent, you must forgive. And then immediately after ‘saying of Jesus’ the authors write how the apostles wanted to increase their faith. One remembered phrase led to the next. It’s hard to have the faith to be forgiving like Jesus… So, Jesus will you increase our faith? And Jesus makes this wild response: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to that huge rainbow tree out our front door to be uprooted and planted somewhere and it would listen to you.
WOW!!! Jesus is talking about the impossible. First all that forgiveness we are suppose to be able to offer someone who wrongs you seven times in one day. And then we are to have a faith that moves immovable objects. I would like to think I have a little faith. Perhaps as much as a mustard seed … after all they are very small. But I know the limitations of what I can do and I can’t do what is asked of me. And perhaps that is the whole message. Faith, without God’s presence, without God’s mercy, without God’s love, without God’s intervention is powerless. But with God, anything is possible.
And then these Jesus’s sayings get even harder to understand. The second half of this reading talks about being like a slave in our work for God. Obviously slavery was common place in the days of Jesus and it did not evoke such a negative emotional response to that initial audience of the Gospel as it does to us today. But if we can divorce our emotions from the word and substitute it with the duty of an employee it makes some sense. Jesus is talking here about the people who do good things only for the reward they are given. And even though we want and crave the extra attention and reward, none of us is deserving of reward as we are just doing the job that is expected of us. The message is to those upright and self-righteous followers of God who feel they deserve their place at God’s table. Jesus reminds us that we do not. In fact none of us are deserving. We are just doing what is our duty. And our job is to follow God and do God’s work, not because of what we will receive in praise or other rewards, but because it IS OUR DUTY and OUR JOB.
And the beauty of these ‘sayings of Jesus’ is that there is indeed Good News for us within them. On this World Wide Communion Sunday as we approach the table that God invites us to share with the Communion of Saints, we do so, not because we have the right measure of faith. None of us has that. But with God’s mercy, we are still invited to partake, because whether great or small, we have all the faith we need. And we need not worry if we are deserving or not either, because, when we are honest, we know that we are not that either. We have done nothing outside of our duty which would set us apart at God’s table. But with God’s love, God’s mercy, and God’s faithfulness, we are all invited. Amen.
LUKE 17: 5-10
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a[a] mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”