LECTIONARY REFLECTION | 17th SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
One of the hardest things to keep in balance is the fact that Jesus Christ is both “lover of our soul” and “Lord of the universe.” He’s beloved friend and coming King. One moment he is wooing us with his tender compassion and the next he is giving us orders like an army general to ensure we prove victorious in the battlefield of life.
Each era of church history needs to revisit this balance, and make corrections when culture squeezes God into its own manageable mold. In our cultural moment, many have a squishy Jesus who never bites and always plays nice. “Faith” in Jesus is often little more than having warm occasional thoughts about him, or rubbing him like a magic lamp when we’re in a pickle and hoping he’ll appear and answer our prayer.
Our Gospel text this week from Luke 17:5-10 jolts us out of this mindset and reminds us that “faith” begins with obeying the master — plain and simple.
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.”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!'” (Luke 17:5-10)
Yes, we are beloved disciples, but we are also servants of the master — “worthless slaves” just to intensify his point. Notice the interplay between “faith” and “obedience” in Jesus’ mind. The disciples come to Jesus and want him to increase their faith. He seems to suggest what they really need is simple obedience to the Lord’s commands.
He uses a master-slave scenario — placing US in the role of the Lord — to drive home his point: You want more faith? Just do what I’ve commanded you to do, and see what happens!
We tend to view “faith” as a magic power to unlock God’s blessings or move mountains if we have enough of it. But in the original Greek text the word for “faith” (pistis) might be better translated wholehearted “loyalty” or “allegiance” to one’s master or lord. That sounds a lot like childlike obedience to me.
We bristle at the concept of obedience because we only have oppressive examples of domineering masters whose commands strip away life and dehumanize us. Yet, the ancient Scriptures invite us to imagine a kind of loving lordship giving out commandments that act as guardrails to keep us safely on the path that leads to flourishing and freedom. The loving parent says to the child, “Stay in the backyard and don’t play near the street” out of love and protection. Jesus’ commandments come from the same loving place.
So, do you want faith to move mountains, overcome obstacles, conquer fears, pass through flames unharmed, quench the fiery arrows of the Enemy, and unlock Heaven’s blessings?
Then start with faithful obedience. Jesus said it; not me.
What simple command of Jesus have you been disregarding? How might obeying Him in that area lead to blessing?
“If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15).
“By this we can be sure that we have come to know Him: if we obey His commandments” (1 John 2:3).