Today's Gospel is another one of those that, after it is proclaimed, everyone wonders how it can possibly be Good News. I preached today, and definitely wondered about that myself.
I find myself in the same sandals as the apostles. They’re on their way to Jerusalem with Jesus. He had already predicted his own death and resurrection twice, so maybe they were getting a bit worried about what was going to happen. And sometime during the journey, Jesus says this to the disciples, which is not part of today’s appointed reading but necessary, I think, to understand what’s going on:
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.”
I think those commands of Jesus – for they are commands, not suggestions – are at least as hard, if not harder, than our own Baptismal Covenant to live up to and live in to. And it seems the disciples felt the same way, because in the very next verse, where we pick up in our Gospel, they said to him, “Increase our faith!” I’d ask for my faith to be increased too if I heard that! Jesus’ next words are also more than a bit of a puzzle: “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. It could mean that the disciples must not have had any faith at all. After all, if they did, there’d be all kinds of greenery flying through the air across Galilee, right? But I’m not so sure. After all, it’s in Luke’s Gospel just a few chapters before that we read that Jesus deputized the Twelve to teach and heal, and that they brought the Good News and cured diseases everywhere. And the 70 reported in great fervor that even the demons submitted to the Lord’s name. So it’s a bit odd to me that all of a sudden Jesus would be chiding the disciples because they didn’t have enough faith.
What I do think Jesus is saying here - talking more to us than to the disciples themselves – is meant to be encouraging. Our own faith, although it may not apparently be enough to uproot trees and sending them flying through the air like the Whomping Willow in Harry Potter, is enough to do remarkable things anyway. And that faith is going to be enough to get the job done. Look at the conclusion of that very strange little parable of the farmer and the slave, which is unique to Luke. Jesus says, “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!" Do you hear the prophecy here? “When you have done all that you were ordered to do.” Jesus is telling us that indeed we will get done all that we have to do, because otherwise we would not be able to say, “We just did what we were told.” And the sense of the word “when” here is actually “whenever” as in “every time you do so.” In other words, each time you have done all that were ordered to do, say, “We’re just doing our job.” We wouldn’t be able to do so if we didn’t have the tools to do the job, which is the faith that Jesus gives us. And so our faith, as tiny as maybe we sometimes think it is, is enough, right now, to get the job done, whatever that is, in our personal lives and the lives of our communities.
So there is Good News, hidden in the angst of everyday life and fear about measuring up. Luke is reflecting the very real problems and issue in our lives, but points out that our own faith in Jesus, however shaky, is always enough, because it's God doing the really hard work anyway.
Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve: Pour upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
PS - Sorry about formatting problems. Can anybody help?