No wonder we don’t talk about Luke chapter 17:7-10. "Faith the size of a mustard seed" — great. Love it. Tiny seed. Lofty idea. Preachable. Even tweetable.
But the rest? It reads like this: Say you have a servant (not even an employee — 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?” Don’t you rather 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 here — 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.
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.