[Jesus said to his disciples, “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 neck than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin. 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.”]
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
The 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.
“Would any of you say to your servant, who had just come in from the field after plowing or tending sheep, ‘Come! Sit down for dinner’? Wouldn’t you say instead, ‘Fix my dinner. Put on the clothes of a table servant and wait on me while I eat and drink. After that, you can eat and drink’? You won’t thank the servant because the servant did what you asked, will you? In the same way, when you have done everything required of you, you should say, ‘We servants deserve no special praise. We have only done our duty.’”
This is one of the most problematic, seemingly mashed together, passages in Luke. In truth, it reminds me of some of the (so-called) Gnostic Gospels, like the Gospel of Thomas, wherein a lot of sayings are slapped together without any story or action or context.
However, I think a case could be made that the statements in this passage are connected to what has happened in the previous chapters. In those, Jesus was comparing the differences between the promised Realm of G-d that he was ushering in and the Religious and Political worlds of the first-century. As we saw from our previous reflections, the way that people were coming to Jesus, the radical inclusiveness he exemplified, the refusal to let the corrupt ways of the Religious Elite go unchallenged, all pointed to his belief that G-d’s Realm was coming “on earth as in heaven.” Specifically, Jesus just finished telling stories against the Pharisees who seemed to care more for material things, their places of power and control, instead of the poor (Luke calls them “money-lovers”). It’s with that in mind that this passage comes to us.
I added the first four verses because they tie directly into what Jesus says in the rest of the passage. You can see Jesus still metaphorically pointing a finger at the Religious Opposition as he talks to the disciples about causing people to stumble. (Pause. He let’s those words sting a little bit in the air.) Then, turning to his disciples, he tells them to watch out that they don’t follow suit! Next he tells them how to do things differently in The Way of G-d’s Realm -- forgiveness. Notice here, like in Matthew, the intention is one of always forgiving. With that type of forgiveness as the object of his lesson, I think we, with the disciples, would exclaim, “Increase our faith!”
But what type of faith are we talking about here? This isn’t saving faith. This is sustaining faith -- the faith we need to make it day by day, moment by moment. That type of faith is not that our view is “right” or that our doctrine, theology, or sectarianism is the “only way.” No, the faith Jesus is talking about here is faith in G-d. Faith in living The Way that Jesus showed us in his actions and talked about in his stories. All we need is just the smallest amount of that faith and we can do things we never dreamed possible.
But what about that last bit? That seems to be so outside of the context. I don’t think so. It seems that the story is about being equipped to do what’s needed, to do what we’ve been asked to do. That is, if G-d has opened our eyes to The Way of Jesus and the Realm of G-d, then we have given the resources we need to do whatever G-d has called us to do. We don’t need something more. We just “do what we can” and then say, “We are ordinary servants; we have only done our duty” (verse 10; GNT*).
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
* Good News Translation® (Today’s English Version, Second Edition); copyright © 1992 American Bible Society. All rights reserved.