20 PENTECOST, PROPER XXII - C - 16 LUKE 17. 5-10
In the verses that immediately precede today’s gospel Jesus has just given his disciples a teaching on forgiveness. The disciple’s immediate reaction, according to Luke, is to ask for an increase of faith? Jesus responds to their request with the familiar example of the mustard seed.
He tells his followers that what is important in life is not the quantity but the quality of our faith. What the disciples had to discern, and what we have to discover is just that, the quality of our faith, whether it be the size of a mustard seed or that of a sycamore tree.
To look at it another way, faith is like a window through which we can see something. What matters is not whether the window is six inches or six feet high; what matters is the God your faith is looking out on. If it is the God who is active in Jesus and the Spirit, then the tiniest peep hole will give you access to a spiritual power you never dreamed of.
No where in the teachings of Jesus does he ever give us a simple definition of faith. But the totality of Jesus’ teachings makes it clear to us that faith is our unconditional acceptance of Him as Lord and Savior. It is our total “yes” to follow him and like him to fulfill the will of the Father.
Faith is a gift from God, and St. Paul reminds Timothy of that in today’s Epistle. In his spiritual advice to his young protégé, Paul instructs him to “rekindle” the gift and to live out the rich deposit of faith that is within him and share it with others.
The spirit that God gives is not one of timidity. It is a spirit of power, love, and self-discipline. Paul’ words are given to us, then, in the same spirit they were given to Timothy, in the same spirit they have been given to others that we have known in our witness to Christ. We all need to “rekindle” the gift of faith that is within us, live it out and not be afraid to share it with others. That’s what makes us true disciples.
We need not be concerned with the quantity of our faith, or our lives, as today’s world wants us to consider, but with the quality of how we live our lives as faithful witnesses for Christ. In the final analysis that is what really matters.
The second pearl, if you will, from today’s gospel is only found in Luke. It has to do with how we live out “our bounden duty and service.” Jesus’ parable of the servant who has just come in from working in the field to serve his master at table makes his teaching clear. Man’s relation to God makes obedience to God a duty to be fulfilled and not an occasion for reward.
But how often have we heard it said “I have done all of this for the Church, I have given so much money over the years for the work and mission of the Church, I have worked so hard teaching Church School, or working on the altar guild and serving on the vestry, surely God will be satisfied with that?” Meaning that somehow one feels he can make a claim on God.
No matter how much we do for God; no matter how difficult it may be at times or what it may cost us, God is never in our debt. God doesn’t owe us anything. It is in His nature to give. Our salvation and our calling is based on God’s grace and love, not on anything we have done to merit God’s favor.
On the contrary, all genuine service to God is done from a Eucharistic standpoint, that is, Thanksgiving, and not to earn any special merit, because we can’t. If we believe that we can go beyond our bounden duty and service and somehow have God in our debt we simply deceive ourselves. To do so is to place ourselves in danger of becoming arrogant and impious.
Again Christ makes it clear in today’s parable that when we have done all that is commanded of us, we have only done our duty and we are without merit of our own. To say that we are ‘unworthy servants” is to remind ourselves of the great truth: we can never put God in our debt.
All that we are and all that we have comes from the grace of God. They are all gifts, as is Faith, Hope, and Love. There is nothing we can offer to God that is not already His, except our sin, and God does not desire that we keep it.
In His great love for us He sent His only Son, Jesus, to redeem us, not only from our sin, but from death. It is through the merits of Christ’ life, death, and resurrection, and His continual mediation for us at the right hand of the Father, that “we are forgiven those things of which our conscience is afraid, and given those good things for which we are not worthy to ask,” as today’s collect says.
In the gospel God invites us to become his own, not because of our accomplishments, for there is nothing we can do to commend ourselves to God. He invites us because of His grace and love, for that is God’s nature. God’s genuine desire, and our Hope, is that at the last day we will be brought with all His saints into the joy of His eternal kingdom. AMEN+