The 20th Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 22C (10/2/2016)

Lessons:Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 Psalm 37:1-9 (5) 2nd Timothy 1:1-14 St. Luke 17:5-10

Semicontinuous Series: Lamentations 1:1-6 Lamentations 3:19-26 (23) or Psalm 137 (7)

Prayer of the Day: Benevolent, 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.

17.1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come!It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” ]

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The 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.

“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’? 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’? 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!’ ”

St. Luke 17:5-10. New Revised Version Bible ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Only What We Ought to Have Done

You could make the case that the disciples, here, finally get it. Jesus has been teaching them about the challenges of living as one of his followers. Give to those who can’t give back to you. Be prepared to pay the cost of following me. Make a difference in the world. Be glad to welcome the lost. Practice your faithfulness shrewdly. Abstain from adultery. Care for the poor. To that, Jesus adds what seems to be the final straw: “If someone sins against you and repents seven times a day, you must forgive.” What? 7 times a day? 49 times a week? 217 times a month? 2,555 times a year? I have to forgive them every single time? Lord, increase my faith!

It seems that his listeners finally get it. They realize that the life of a Christian disciple is a difficult one. Not one they can live on their own. It will take, they surmise, a lot more faith than they currently have. You might expect Jesus to commend them for this insight. He doesn’t. Instead, he says: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed [implying, ‘and you don’t’]…”

Jesus chastises them because this way of thinking treats faith as a commodity to possess; something to draw on that will make us less human — less sinful — less in need of forgiveness — than we might be otherwise. Give us more of this, Jesus, and then we’ll need less of you. We can depend on our own faithfulness. We can depend on our own performance. We can depend on our own determination to be the people God calls us to be.

No: this isn’t the life into which Jesus invites us. Instead, faith is the capacity to trust in the promise of Christ. Faith is the invitation to know we’ll accidentally (or intentionally!) be the source of someone else’s stumbling one day, or to know that we’ll never be able to gladly forgive someone seven times a day. Faith is not a commodity that turns us into a community of spiritual super heroes. Instead, faith is what helps us to see, truly, who we are (sinners, who struggle every day with the brokenness of this world), and who God is (the one who comes to us in Christ, and empowers our witness and our service).

Remember how the Apostle Paul put it in his letter to the Thessalonians: “May the God of peace sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and will do this.” [1st Thessalonians 5:23-24]

We could wait until we have more faith. We could wait until we feel better prepared. We could wait until we understand the situation more thoroughly. But Jesus challenges us to live into this cross-shaped life just as we are. And then, when it’s over, we say, “We have done only what we ought to have done.”

So, friends in Christ: go in peace; serve the Lord. And thanks be to God, who calls us, inspires us, and empowers us for faithfulness.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What indication does Jesus give his followers that faithfulness will be hard?
  2. Why do the disciples despair of his description?
  3. How does thinking of themselves as simple slaves give them hope?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What do I find hard about living in this world as a Christian?
  2. When have I sensed the power of Christ, enabling me to be faithful?
  3. How can my faithfulness depend less on me, and more on God?