Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Confusing Request

I can tell that this is going to be one of those weeks in which I am unable to set aside the time I should take to blog and reflect on the readings. (Yesterday's reflection on St. Michael & All Angels will remain unfinished.) But I wanted to share a few thoughts and questions about Sunday's gospel (Luke 17:5-9) as the week goes along.

As our lesson opens, the disciples make a request of Jesus: "Increase our faith!" That seems like a good enough request. Who wouldn't want more faith? What teacher wouldn't want his disciples to have more faith? How can more faith be a bad thing? Well, Jesus responds and leaves the disciples' (and our) heads spinning.

"If you had faith the size of a mustard seed..."

Yeah, yeah. I get it. I want more faith, but I should stop by realizing that if I even had a tiny amount I could do amazing things.

But then Jesus carries on with some weird stuff about slaves coming in from the field. He concludes by saying, "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!'" What? Say what?

As I read and reread the lesson, I'm trying to figure out what it was that the disciples said that made Jesus respond like that. The analogy he uses--the slave who comes in and is expected to keep serving rather than sit down and eat--makes me wonder what was really behind their request for more faith. 

I looked at the Greek, and it seems harmless enough. In staff meeting today, Seth, who is preaching this week, brought up the disparity between the portrayal of the Pharisees and those of right faith, wondering whether the disciples were straying into the realm of arrogance. I think that might be the key. Also, I wonder whether there is something too simplistic about saying, "Lord, increase our faith!" Faith takes work (not "works" but practice). It's a process (not process theology, necessarily, but a development). To simply ask for faith as if it were magically granted is to miss the point. Faith is part of our discipleship. Discipleship is the practice of and search for faith. To ask that it all be given all at once is to deny the real power of it.

What do you think? What's wrong with the disciples' request? Why did Jesus react like that?

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