Gospel: Luke 17:5-10
5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of 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’? 8Would 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’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So 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!’ ”
Dr Luke Bouman was the pastor of the chapel at Valparaiso University years ago. He is a gifted writer and preacher. I really appreciate his words on this lesson:
Today, no less than years ago, those who claim to follow Jesus want more of whatever that stuff was. Crowds are hungry to at least see, if not perform, miraculous deeds of power. We want to see the evidence that faith still works its charm over nature. We want to distract ourselves, and when crisis hits, perhaps we can marshal the energy and the force of will to conjure such faith in ourselves. We have seen the possibilities, not pausing to think about the power of the parlor trick on a grander scale. And so we convince ourselves that with just enough faith we can do for ourselves, with God’s help of course. Yeah, we want some of that. We desire it deeply in our hearts. And so, along with our deep desire comes deep disappointment when we hear the answer to our request. Jesus says, “no.”
Mind you, he does not say no to our desire for faith, per se. Instead he says no to our desire to have a faith that serves us. He says no to our desire for a faith that makes us look good and powerful to the world. And it isn’t that faith is not powerful. No indeed, Jesus confirms that it is, so much so that even a little bit, even so much faith as the tiniest of seeds, would be enough to uproot a tree or move a mountain. But such faith is not for us, not for our needs, not for our moments.
We are servants, Jesus says. We are table waiters. Whatever we do, in whatever moments, are at the request of our master. Even when we are weary from doing all we can, more will be required of us until we are spent and then, only then, are we rewarded, only with what we are due for the day.
This answer would be surprising, even cruel, taken by itself. God, as a slave owner and task master, is not necessarily the image that would inspire me to follow out of anything but fear. It is certainly not the image I would expect out of a God who is said to love humanity deeply, and one who would call all of his disciples to life giving, self-giving love.
But there is something more to the question that Jesus asks. “Which of you would say to your slave, come sit while I serve you?” We assume that the answer is none of them. But consider Jesus himself. What did he do on the night before he died? He, the master, stripped to his waist and served his disciples by washing them.
Then, in a bold move, he served them a meal where he was both host, and servant, both distributor of the feast and the meal itself. We remember that every week when we say the words of institution – “This is my body, this is my blood.” Jesus becomes host and meal, servant and strength for each of us.
Which of you?” Jesus asks. We know the answer, Lord, we know you do it for us.
It is this love that offers such service to us, and inspires such service in us, Jesus’ disciples. It is for this very offering of ourselves that faith is required. It is not for us to GET something, but for us to GIVE something (our very lives) that the Holy Spirit breathes faith into our being and into our communities of faith. It is a faith that embraces our life and holds us even in the face of life’s frailties. It is faith that gives us courage and sustains us, even when we are required to give more than we thought we had. If it was this faith that the disciples asked for, Jesus’ answer might have been other than it was. But they . . . but we . . . but I still have much to learn before my prayer, my request, can be turned to serve the one who so lovingly serves me.
You see, faith is not a spectator sort of concept. It is not something that one can just have without acting on it. In fact, this is my favorite definition: Faith is trusting God's way of being in the world as our way of being in the world. It seems that this is what Jesus is telling us. Jesus, in this passage, says that he intends to live the loving, serving life. We know that he is so dedicated to this that he lives it, even to the point of death. Just as Jesus was living out God's way of being in the world, we, his followers, are faithful if we do no less than live the same way as we go about our lives, every minute, every day. Faith means action, and it means action on behalf of others, especially those whom we might be tempted to think of as "beneath" us. It is this serving faith that should be the concern of the disciples, not a faith that can be used only for ourselves, and especially not faith that becomes a weapon to be used against others.
Just so, God grants faith to the body of Christ on earth, so long as that faith is strength for our serving, not strength for our wanting. And at the end of the day, though we may be full of faith and grace, yet we too say, “we are only worthless servants, we have only done what we ought to have done.” Yet, I have the feeling that only we might think we are worthless. Indeed, God has shown us that we are worth much more to him than we are to the world around us. He spent himself completely for us. And in doing so, inspires us to trust his serving way as our way. (Rev. Dr. Luke Bouman)
Let us pray. Merciful God, when we are empty, fill us. When we are weak in faith, strengthen us. When we are cold in love, warm us, that with fervor we may love our neighbors and serve them for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.