Summary: Year C. Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost October 7th, 2001 Luke 17: 5-10 Heavenly Father, thank you for genuine faith, which can accomplish what experience, reason, and probability would disallow. Amen. Title: “Genuine faith”
Year C. Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost October 7th, 2001 Luke 17: 5-10
Heavenly Father, thank you for genuine faith, which can accomplish what experience, reason, and probability would disallow. Amen.
Title: “Genuine faith”
Jesus teaches about faith as a quality and the quality of a disciple’s response to faith as a gift.
Jesus has just told his disciples that they are to forgive a limitless number of times chapter seventeen, verses three and four. In reaction to this startling teaching they ask for an “increase” in faith chapter seventeen verse five. Jesus uses the occasion to teach that faith is not so much a quantity as a quality that empowers a disciple to do the seemingly impossible. The same point was made in Matthew chapter seventeen verse twenty, when Jesus told the disciples that the reason they could not exorcise the demon in an epileptic boy, the seemingly impossible, was because of their, “little,” faith, meaning not lack of amount, but lack of authenticity. There he uses the analogy of the mustard seed, the smallest in size, and states that faith barely visible could “move mountains,” that is, obstacles impossible to deny. Here he uses another metaphor, “uprooting a mulberry tree,” meaning a seemingly impossible deed. Faith, a gift from God, can “move mountains” and “uproot trees” and empower a disciple to forgive a seemingly impossible amount of times, even on the same day.
In verses six to ten, Jesus uses still another metaphor, which earlier in chapter twelve verse thirty-seven, he used in a different context to make the opposite point he is making here. There he said the master, on finding his servant faithful in his absence, would sit him down at table and serve dinner to him, the servant. Here he states that the master would require his servant to wait on him, after working all day long in the fields, even before he eats. He does so to make the point that even though God will reward fidelity, he has no obligation to do so. Just as there is no “amount” of faith that can be stored up, neither is their an “amount,” of good deeds that can be presented to God, like a debt to be repaid. Just as faith is a quality, so faithfulness is also. The attitude of the servant should be one of gratitude for a gift given, not expectation of gratitude from the gift giver, God.
In verse five the disciples ask Jesus to “Increase our faith,” the meaning of the request here is, “Add more faith to what we already have.”
In Luke this request seems to be prompted by Jesus’ teaching on unlimited forgiveness. The disciples apparently reason that if they are to be able to forgive limitlessly, they will need limitless faith.
In verse six, mustard seed, the mustard seed was thought to be the smallest seed. It is not the size, amount or quantity of faith that is important or that makes faith more or less effective. It is the quality, reality, genuineness, authenticity of it that matters. Faith, a grace, is not a commodity, something that can be quantified, an extra, apart from God. Faith involves a special quality in a relationship. As such it is improper to conceive of it as something to be stored up and shored up by accumulation of either prayers or good works.
In verse six, “mulberry tree,” the Greek has “sycamine” tree, a species of mulberry. But the “sycamore” tree, is regarded as a particularly deep-rooted tree. Thus, there is the double impossibility of uprooting not only a tree, but a sycamore. Faith takes these things in stride and accomplishes the seemingly impossible with little or no effort, just with faith. Genuine faith has wondrous, otherworldly power because it is faith, a trusting relationship, in and with the great God.
“It would obey you,” the person with faith has great power, able to effect change beyond imagining. Not too many people would want to move a tree and that is not Jesus’ point, only an exaggerated way of making his point. Jesus loved hyperbole, that is, a figure of speech in which exaggeration is used for emphasis or effect.
The saying is not to be taken literally. Christians are to be neither conjurers nor magicians. Jesus wants his disciples to approach challenges with a can-do attitude- can-do, that is, with, the grace of, God. He recognizes that forgiving may seem as daunting as moving a mighty oak. One really does not possess such power. It must be given as a gift, and, therefore, asked for, accepted and used responsibly. Faith brings responsibility to be faithful. It is, after all, faith in a great God, not great faith in self. Genuine faith can accomplish what experience, reason, and probability would disallow.