The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – 8:30 a.m. service
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Luke 17:5-10

Text only. JUST THE OTHER DAY, I PLACED AN ORDER OVER THE PHONE AND THE SALES CLERK SAID, “WE ARE RUNNING A SPECIAL THAT IF YOU BUY ONE YOU CAN GET ANOTHER AT HALF PRICE.” THIS IS KNOWN AS “UP SELLING,” AND IT NORMALLY DOESN’T WORK ON ME, BUT SINCE I WAS BUYING A GIFT FOR MY WIFE, I LET MYSELF BE TALKED INTO IT. THE REASON UP SELLING WORKS IS THAT WE HAVE THIS TENDENCY TO THINK THAT IF WE HAVE SOMETHING WE LIKE OR NEED MORE OF IT WOULD BE BETTER. THIS IS WHY, IF YOU GO TO A PARTICULAR FAST FOOD CHAIN, YOU GET ASKED, “DO YOU WANT TO SUPER SIZE THAT?” WANTING MORE IS A NATURAL HUMAN TENDENCY; MORE MONEY, A BIGGER HOUSE, A BETTER CAR, BECAUSE, AFTER ALL, MORE IS BETTER. IF WE HAVE MORE OF SOMETHING, WE CAN DO MORE WITH IT. THIS WAS THE ATTITUDE OF THE DISCIPLES WHEN THEY DEMANDED OF JESUS, “INCREASE OUR FAITH!” LITERALLY IN THE GREEK THEY SAID, “GIVE US MORE OF FAITH.”

OUR ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS JUST DON’T CAPTURE THE IRRITATION AND SARCASM OF JESUS’ REPLY. AS WE READ THIS PASSAGE, OR HEAR IT READ, IT SEEMS AS IF JESUS TELLS THEM THAT IF ONLY THEY HAD FAITH THE SIZE OF A MUSTARD SEED, THEY COULD DO THE IMPOSSIBLE; COMMAND A MULBERRY TREE TO BE UPROOTED AND PLANTED IN THE SEA. THE GREEK CONJUGATION IS COMPLICATED, AND NOT EASILY TRANSLATED. A MORE ACCURATE READING WOULD BE, “IF HAVING FAITH THE SIZE OF A MUSTARD SEED, (IMPLYING THAT THEY DO), YOU COULD DO WHAT WOULD SEEM IMPOSSIBLE – BUT THAT’S NOT HAPPENING BECAUSE YOU ARE NOT USING THE FAITH THAT YOU HAVE.” THE DISCIPLES WERE CONSIDERING FAITH AS A COMMODITY; IF SOME IS GOOD MORE WOULD BE BETTER, BECAUSE WE COULD DO MORE WITH IT. JESUS IS TALKING ABOUT FAITH AS TRUST IN HIM, AND ONE EITHER TRUSTS IN HIM OR NOT. THEIR REQUEST IS AS ABSURD AS ASKING TO BE MADE A LITTLE MORE PREGNANT, AND, SO, HIS RESPONSE IS ALSO ABSURDLY HYPERBOLIC.

TO PLACE THIS EXCHANGE IN CONTEXT, WE HAVE TO BE REMINDED THAT JESUS HAD BEEN TELLING THE DISCIPLES THAT THEY MUST NOT BECOME STUMBLING BLOCKS FOR ANYONE SEEKING THE KINGDOM OF GOD, AND THAT THEY MUST FORGIVE ALL WHO SIN AGAINST THEM OR GIVE THEM OFFENSE, EVERY TIME WITHOUT EXCEPTION. LIKE ANY OF US, THEY MUST HAVE THOUGHT, “THIS IS PRETTY HARD TO DO,” SO IF JESUS COULD GIVE THEM MORE FAITH, THEY WOULD BE ABLE TO DO IT, AND WOULD BE BETTER AT BEING HIS DISCIPLES; THEREBY EARNING HIS THANKS AND PRAISE.

THE LITTLE PARABLE OF THE MASTER AND HIS SLAVE WHICH FOLLOWS MAKES SENSE ONLY IN THE CONTEXT OF THE ATTITUDE OF THE DISCIPLES. BASICALLY, IT ASKS THE RHETORICAL QUESTION OF WHY YOU WOULD EVER EXPECT THANKS AND PRAISE FOR DOING WHAT WAS EXPECTED OF YOU. WHEN YOU HAVE DONE ALL YOU WERE COMMANDED TO DO, ALL YOU CAN SAY IS “WE ARE UNWORTHY (NOT WORTHLESS) SLAVES; WE HAVE DONE ONLY WHAT WE OUGHT TO HAVE DONE.”

SO, HOW MUCH FAITH DOES ONE REQUIRE TO DO WHAT THE LORD COMMANDS? LIKE A MUSTARD SEED, YOUR FAITH IS EITHER THERE OR IT IS NOT. TO PUT IT INTO CONTEMPORARY TERMS, IT IS A BINARY SOLUTION; EITHER YES OR NO. DO YOU TRUST JESUS? IF THE ANSWER IS YES, YOU HAVE ALL THE FAITH NECESSARY TO DO WHAT THE LORD COMMANDS; FEED THE HUNGRY, CLOTHE THE NAKED, CARE FOR THE SICK, VISIT THOSE IN PRISON, FORGIVE THOSE WHO PERSECUTE YOU, LOVE YOUR ENEMIES, AND MAKE DISCIPLES OF ALL NATIONS. IF THE ANSWER IS NO, THEN YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO DO ANY OF WHAT THE LORD COMMANDS, AND ASKING FOR MORE FAITH SO YOU COULD DO WHAT HE COMMANDS IS AN ABSURD REQUEST. DOING SO IS TRYING TO MAKE DEMANDS UPON THE LORD; “I WILL DO THIS FOR YOU IF YOU FIRST DO THIS FOR ME.” THAT IS THE POINT OF THE PARABLE OF THE MASTER AND THE SLAVE; WE CANNOT MAKE DEMANDS UPON GOD, FOR WE ARE ONLY HIS UNWORTHY SLAVES. BY HIS GRACE, HE GAVE US, HIS UNWORTHY SLAVES, THE GIFT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE SOURCE OF OUR TRUST IN JESUS, THAT WE MIGHT BE THE HANDS AND FEET OF HIS KINGDOM IN THIS WORLD; AND THAT IS ALL WE NEED TO GET ABOUT DOING WHAT HE COMMANDS US TO DO.

RECENTLY, A BOOK ABOUT MOTHER TERESA OF CALCUTTA HAS BEEN PUBLISHED, AND IT RECOUNTS HER STRUGGLES WITH FEAR AND DOUBT; HER DARK NIGHTS OF THE SOUL. SHE OFTEN HAD QUESTIONS WHICH REMAINED UNANSWERED, AND IT WOULD HAVE BEEN SURPRISING IF SHE HAD NOT. LIKE ALL OF US, SHE HAD DOUBTS ABOUT A LOT OF THINGS, BUT SHE NEVER FAILED TO DO THE WORK SHE BELIEVED HER LORD CALLED HER TO DO. EVEN WITH HER DOUBTS, SHE CONTINUED TO LABOR FOR THE LORD OUT OF SIMPLE TRUST IN HIM. SO TOO, WE ARE CALLED TO DO THE WORK THE LORD CALLS US TO DO, NOT FOR RECOGNITION OR REWARD, BUT OUT OF SIMPLE TRUST IN JESUS; “WHO HAS SAVED US AND CALLED US WITH A HOLY CALLING, NOT ACCORDING TO OUR WORKS, BUT ACCORDING TO HIS OWN PURPOSE AND GRACE.”

I AM OCCASIONALLY ASKED WHY I CAN’T SEEM TO TAKE A COMPLIMENT WHEN SOMEONE SAYS, “GOOD SERMON.” I RARELY RESPOND WITH ANYTHING OTHER THAN, “PRAISE THE LORD.” THIS IS NOT AN AFFECTATION, BECAUSE I AM ABSOLUTELY SERIOUS WHEN I SAY THAT. I DO THIS BECAUSE IT IS THE WORK TO WHICH THE LORD CALLED ME, AND NOT FOR RECOGNITION OR PRAISE. I SIMPLY DO WHAT THE LORD CALLED ME TO DO BECAUSE I TRUST IN HIM, AND ALL PRAISE AND HONOR BELONG SOLELY TO JESUS, “WHO ABOLISHED DEATH AND BROUGHT LIFE AND IMMORTALITY TO LIGHT THROUGH THE GOSPEL.” I, LIKE YOU, AND LIKE MOTHER TERESA, AM SIMPLY HIS UNWORTHY SLAVE. THAT IS SUFFICIENT FOR ME TO DO THE WORK MY LORD JESUS HAS COMMANDED ME TO DO.
AMEN

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