Today’s printed lesson begins at verse 5 but we need to go back to look at the first 4 verses of Luke 17 that include the verse on it being better to take a large millstone around your neck than to lead a little one into sin and where it says you must forgive someone even if they sin against you seven times in one day.
In our lesson for today, Jesus was speaking privately to the disciples and after hearing what Jesus had said to them about forgiveness they say to Jesus: “for us to do that we must have our faith increased, because on our own with our small faith we can not do it.
I think Jesus answer is more about the nature of faith and the quality of the way we live rather than the quantity of faith. To forgive as Jesus asks, the disciples would have to realize that faith enables God to work in a person’s life in ways that defy ordinary human experience. They will need Jesus’ resurrection to change the quality of their faith before God would be able to do that kind of work in their lives.
That startling experience of Jesus’ new life changed the disciple’s view of what faith is. Faith is about a forgiveness that enables repentance a change in your life so radical that getting even doesn’t make any difference any more.
This is illustrated by the second part of our lesson about duty. Jesus teaches that duty pays attention to the deed itself and not the reward. Duty and the faith that inspires it sets us free from the web of reciprocity or staying even, which makes every human action an exchange transaction. What is in it for me, rather than what service my I render. Duty is to give our best and most honest effort and service we can.
Duty is not fashionable, it has been supplanted by a transactional network in which we always expect a reward for our good deeds. Children help around the house in exchange for their allowance. They don’t know the joy of a good job, being its own reward.
Jesus resurrection shows us that the opportunity to do our duty to God is a wonderful thing in itself, and that human recognition adds nothing to that. Remember this is the same Jesus that said. “When you give alms do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that what you do is a secret.
Jesus is saying that we owe a duty of service to our creator, whether we find it rewarding or not. Sometimes we have fun here at worship, but it is not entertainment. We come here to this place to honor God. Worship is a thing in itself. We follow Jesus because that is good, not because it gets us anywhere. We follow and that following is virtue.
Serving God, is the greatest possible reward. To be welcomed home by him and given the high privilege of continuing to serve him is the ultimate significant human experience. My life is most significant when I am able to serve God and give myself.
The greatest reward is to be given more to do for God. To serve God is a delight. When service is a delight it becomes a foretaste of the feast to come. At other times it is a duty and not so much a delight to serve. Faith can become tired and when we fail to eat and drink enough to sustain our faith and rather than delight we feel anxiety and despair, that is when duty steps up to help us. Sometimes we pray, worship, do good works, support the church when we don’t feel like it, because it is our duty.
Jesus answer to the disciples about having the smallest amount of faith is saying that you should not stand around waiting for God to give you an awards banquet, but rather that they need to get on with serving God. They wanted Jesus to say something like this in response to their question.
“You folks are really doing a marvelous job! Let me assure you, your faith is strong as an ox, as solid as a rock, so you have no reason to be anxious about yourselves. My Father is very pleased with what you have achieved and is now preparing an awards banquet where he will recognize you for the good effort you have made. Don’t worry about all those sins and failures. God does not really care abut them: all he cares about is that you should feel better. So cheer up, God love you and so do I.”
That is the gospel according to the false prophets about whom people speak well, and against whom Jesus warns us. You don’t have to go far to hear that message, if that is what you are looking for.
What is it that Jesus says in reply to the disciples? Find within yourself a speck of faith, a mite of real trust. When you find it you will steer clear of phony faith and you will not seek the easy assurances of the false prophets who serve not God but themselves and their own need to be praised. In the mean time. Keep on showing up, serving and praying. Just do it! Worship when you don’t feel like it; pray when you don’t want to; read the Bible; call on God when all you hear is the sound of your own voice, in a vast emptiness. Do your duty.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, He created us and all that there is. And because we owe him everything, give thanks to God.
Jesus teaches us to live a faith that goes beyond the bounds of a reciprocity of exchange. To live a generous life, to serve God, even when we are not sure if it leads to getting even or earning justice.
Faith as a grain of mustard. The praise of God through the lips of despair is especially precious to God. I am reminded of Jesus cry from the cross: “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” What better illustration of a tiny sliver of faith that not only uprooted a tree but a whole world of darkness and sin.
We live by forgiveness, we live because of forgiveness. When we realize how much we have been forgiven of, that is coming to faith. That changes the way we look at everything. It changes us.
Why is it a good thing to understand that a job well done is its own reward?
Why is forgiveness the hardest and most powerful thing we can give?
Why is it important to do our duty as we understand it even when we don’t feel like it?