Increase (?) our faith (Ordinary Sunday 27, Year C)

Reading
Luke 17.5–10

The disciples say to Jesus,

Increase our faith!

The scriptures don’t mention their state of mind, but I can’t resist speculating. I suspect they were
anxious,
bewildered,
confused,
and shamed.

You see, Jesus had just said some things that showed that it’s very difficult sometimes to be his disciple. Things like this:

Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen. It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their necks than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin.

What’s that about? What are the ‘things that cause people to trip and fall into sin’? Jesus explains what he means: it’s all about not forgiving other people. Surprised? Listen:

Watch yourselves! If your brother or sister sins, warn them to stop. If they change their hearts and lives, forgive them. Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I am changing my ways,’ you must forgive that person.

That’s when the disciples say, ‘Increase our faith!’

The disciples are saying, You want us to forgive someone who keeps doing the wrong thing day after day after day? You’re asking the impossible! Increase our faith!

And what do they mean, ‘Increase our faith’? It is absolutely crucial to understand Jesus’ reply. He tells them the size of their faith doesn’t matter. It only needs to be the size of a mustard seed.

If size doesn’t matter, what does matter?

What matters is that we share the faith of Jesus. When we share the faith of Jesus, just a mustard seed’s worth goes a long way.

The faith of Jesus is seen in the way he forgives. Someone has said:

Jesus doesn’t just forgive. He delights in forgiving unforgivable people who don’t deserve a drop of grace.

It’s a daily walk, sometimes a daily grind, but we are called to keep on forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven us.

The faith of Jesus is seen in his faithfulness—in his faithful service and love of others, in his determination that others may thrive and live and grow. In his willingness to do whatever it takes to save us.

I hope this will help to make sense of why Luke’s story goes straight to that rather odd parable of the master and the slave.

As usual, Jesus is inviting us into a very creative story here. It took a while for me to see that this parable isn’t condoning a situation in which some are masters and some are slaves. In this brief parable, Jesus invites us to identify with both master and slave. He starts off,

Who among you would say to your slave…

Then finishes with

…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!’

Jesus isn’t upholding slavery here. He’s getting his hearers to imagine a world in which everyone is a master, everyone a slave. In other words, a world in which

There is no longer Jew or Greek,
there is no longer slave or free,
there is no longer male and female;
for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

The apostle Paul said this years later (in Galatians 3.28), and here we proclaim it whenever we baptise people.

When we have that mustard seed of the faith of Christ, then these divisions cease to mean anything. And we are called to put that into practice. (Friends, that would be far more astounding than prayerfully chucking a mulberry tree into the sea.)

This month, our congregation is observing Ministry Development Month. We’ll be talking about how you can ‘Lend a Hand’. You have been given a folder with the information, and you’ll soon hear more. This is a way of putting the faith of Christ into action, mutually serving and receiving service from one another. None of us here are master or slave, we are one in Christ—so let us embrace the opportunity to serve one another, and so allow the Lord to direct our faith.

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