Getting Over Ourselves
Luke 17: 5-10
The 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’? 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? 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!’”
two traveling monks reached a river where they met a young woman. wary of the current, she asked if they could carry her across. one of the monks hesitated, but the other quickly picked her up onto his shoulders, transported her across the water, and put her down on the other bank. she thanked him and departed. as the monks continued on their way, the one was brooding and preoccupied. unable to hold his silence, he spoke out. “brother, our spiritual training teaches us to avoid any contact with women, but you picked that one up on your shoulders and carried her!” “brother,” the second monk replied, “she needed to get across the water so I helped her, i set her down once we reached the other side, why are you still holding onto her?.”
Here’s what’s happening in our text…
Jesus has just given two stories about the difficulty of being wealthy and a follower of Jesus.
Jesus then says to his followers:
17v1&2 “Occasions for stumbling (skandalon) are bound to come but woe to anyone who causes another to stumble! 2 It would be better for you if a large rock were tied around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to fall.
What causes one to stumble and who are these little ones Jesus is protecting? Jesus is greatly concerned with the plight of those who are oppressed, the poor, crippled, blind, and lame. Jesus chastises the religious leaders about not seeking those who are lost and not caring for the sheep, the people of Israel. Chapters 14-16 Jesus has warned and challenged those who have to give away their wealth by taking care of those who do not have. The little ones are those in need help and cannot help themselves.
The Gospel of Luke portrays God as having a special place in his heart for these “little ones” who cannot protect themselves, provide for themselves and are in need. Those who have plenty are responsible for helping those who have none. God’s concern should be their concern. To not meet their needs is to place a stumbling block in their path. This goes against God’s nature and his kingdom.
Jesus then gives a warning…
17v3&4 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.”
Prosexete! Which means “PAY ATTENTION!” Jesus then tells them how to handle those who are lawbreakers, sinners…he tells them to offer forgiveness and don’t stop. Keep forgiving, even “seven times a day” which means complete forgiveness, no limit. There is no bottom to the well of forgiveness in Jesus’ followers.
Through out the last 3 chapters of Luke Jesus has been talking directly to the disciples but is aware there are others listening in. Some are religious leaders. Jesus, aware of his audience, compares and contrasts. To his followers he says “do & be this way ” to the Pharisees “you should be and do but aren’t.”
Faith on steroids…
The apostles say to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” And the Lord said, “if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Notice that the word “Lord” Kurios in Greek is used twice. This means what is being said is authoritative. It is important and should be heeded. It is a royal proclamation.
Jesus, since Luke 9:51, is journeying toward Jerusalem. As he goes he is giving the disciples his core instructions. Part of these teaching concern the pitfalls of increasing wealth, holding and being held onto by worldly treasure.
The disciples, like us, slow as always, follow Jesus’ teaching on decreasing by asking for…? Increase. True it is an increase of faith but they still aren’t grasping Jesus’ upside down Kingdom. Jesus responds that even with the smallest faith they could topple trees into the ocean. Faith isn’t about increasing it’s about decreasing.
The disciples are having a hard time buying into what Jesus is selling. “If you want us to do what you’re asking, believe what you’re saying, we need more than regular faith, we need steroid faith!” How can little faith uproot trees? How can giving up treasures give us something more valuable? How can the meek inherit the earth? It just doesn’t make sense. They ask Jesus for increased faith to believe this Kingdom way is even possible. Desperate, needy, knowing they don’t have what it takes to do this on their own. Jesus has them right where he wants them. It is when the disciples see their need that Jesus can help them.
For followers of Jesus it’s not about more. It’s never about more. It’s about recognizing our poverty. We are indeed lame, blind, lost, wounded, in need.
Jesus has already condemned the religious leaders, who have lost their way, by seeking to increase in worldly wealth & prestige. Seeking increase and not decrease has caused them to miss their calling to seek and save the lost. Next to the disciples are living, walking, talking examples of how increasing corrupts.
Saint Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1;
For the message of the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. …God made foolish the wisdom of the world…some demand more signs and some desire more wisdom, but the gospel of Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength…not many follower of Jesus are wise by human standards, not many are powerful, not many of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish to shame the wise; what is weak to shame the strong; what is low and despised to shame the high and exalted.
Jesus is telling them that striving to gain more, even faith, is not what the Kingdom is all about. To be aware of our need keeps up dependent on God for all things. We decrease so our dependence on God will increase. The more we depend the more God provides. It is not great faith that moves mountains and uproots trees but the God whom our faith is in.
To understand our weakness is to know God’s strength. Jesus’ desire for the disciples is for them to be totally depend upon God’s provision.
Getting over ourselves…
Jesus finishes by saying,
But which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, who comes in out of the field, will say to him, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’. But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something which I might eat, and fastening garments, serve me as I eat and drink, and after this, you will eat and drink’? Does he not have grace to the servant because he did the things commanded? And you also, when you have done all the things commanded you, you say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We are obligated to do what we have done.'”
This seems harsh but Jesus is helping the disciples see that whatever they accomplish for the Kingdom is not by great faith but by the greatness of God.
Saint Martin of Braga says; “Behold, this is true Christian humility. In this you will be able to achieve victory over every vice, by attributing to God rather than to yourself the fact that you have won.”
Listen to the servants response to the master; “We are unprofitable servants. We are obligated to do what we have done.” Jesus is saying “it is because I have called you, I have equipped you, because of me you are able to be a part of the Kingdom.”
It is not by great faith, great talent, great skill, great blessings that anything is accomplished for God. Only when we get over ourselves and our desire to be greater, to increase do we understand. We’re just servants. We aren’t in charge. We just do what we are told. We are totally reliant upon the master.
We have such a hard time understanding the whole decreasing concept. Giving it all up is how we gain. Sacrifice, not hoarding, scares us. We think it is only by our great faith, great talent, great…whatever, can we do great things for the Kingdom. We need to get over ourselves.
The good news is God keeps forgiving because we keep forgetting. He doesn’t give up on us. It is in the needy, the lame, the blind, the lost, the forgetful, the stubborn, the not so bright, that His love shines the brightest.Psalm 32 …“Let the faithful offer prayer to God. The Lord is with us in times of distress. When the rush of mighty waters threaten they will not reach us for You, O’ God, are our hiding place. You are preserve us from trouble. We offer You our praise of deliverance. Lord, instruct us and teach us the way we should go. Show us how to depend on You. May we listen and take to heart what You want to teach us. Let us not be stubborn and go our own ways. Let Your steadfast love surrounds us. May we trust in You for all things. Let us be glad and rejoice that You are our God. Amen” — — bdl
Posted on October 6, 2013, in Mindfulness and tagged #comfort, #God, #humility, #journey, #kindness, #Lectionary, #life, #mindful, #wisdom, #zen, Christ, Christianity, Israelites, Jesus, Lord, Luke's Gospel, mindfulness, Mustard seed, Religion and Spirituality. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.