Weekly Bible Reflection
Luke: Signs of the Kingdom
Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity
Text: Luke 17.5-10: "Quantity or Quality? "
Begin by using the Bible Study method as outlined
What do we mean by ‘faith’? Is it something you have ever struggled with? What do people mean when they say that it’s not the amount of faith one has that’s important, but the kind of faith – a faith that is genuine, even if as small as a mustard seed?
A Window on the Text
These are puzzling little anecdotes that Luke reports about Jesus. They use word pictures about travelling trees and overworked servants to grapple with abstract concepts such as sin, faith, duty, repentance, forgiveness and service. The journey the disciples are embarking upon will be difficult, and they will have to face opposition, scandal, and disagreements. In the face of this Jesus requires loyalty and commitment, not just in theory but in practice too, when situations become difficult.
He tells this parable of the slave and his master as a warning against having a ‘book-keeping’ mentality. However hard he has worked for his boss, he cannot expect special treatment for simply doing his duty. Nor can we expect to earn God’s approval by our own actions, however worthy – although we have received a totally undeserved gift. Even the best service we can give is no more than God is entitled to expect. There is no room for boasting about being a better Christian than anyone else.
Luke describes Jesus as talking to the disciples, but the parable would perhaps be even more appropriately addressed to the Pharisees – who were more likely to own slaves, farms and flocks of sheep that needed to be tended. Perhaps there is a kind of Palestinian humour in Jesus supposing that one of his followers might have all these assets when in actual fact the first Christians were more likely to have been numbered among the slaves!
Responding as a community
- It has been said that it is not great faith in God that we need, but faith in a great God. Do you find this a helpful comment? Does it help to have great faith in order to practice forgiveness?
- Whose responsibility is it for ‘tilling the mission field’ and ‘tending the Christian flock?’ Do those who get paid to undertake these roles (ordained ministers, church workers etc) compromise their faith by expecting a reward for what they do?
Use either of the following prayers, depending on which is more appropriate for your circumstances:
O God of pilgrimage and covenant, grant us the faith to stay with you as you travel on; that amid changes that leave the mind bewildered, anxieties that wear away our strength, and hopes deferred which make the heart sick, we may never doubt the triumph of your love, while he who is the way, the truth, and the life is shining before us, even Jesus Christ our Lord.
Lord, as we remember Job, stripped of all that he held most dear,
and maintaining his faith on the rubbish-tip of his native town;
and Paul affirming that all things are to be counted as garbage
for the sake of following Christ;
we thank you for those who even today in many different parts of the world
are maintaining their integrity and discovering faith
in situations of unbelievable privation and need.
May we who have so much and suffer so little
be more worthy of their company.
Both from A Procession of Prayers, by John Carden.
- The ‘mulberry tree’ was a very large tree, with a tangled and complicated root system. It was difficult to grow in deep water, so what happened to it as a result of that small amount of real faith was doubly amazing.
- In our social system, faith or belief usually means a psychological, internal, cognitive, and affective assent of mind to truths. This assent is given either because the truths make sense in themselves, or because the person speaking has credibility. However in the New Testament, the words faith and belief refer to the social glue that binds one person to another, that is, the social, externally manifested, emotional behaviour of loyalty and commitment, and solidarity. In sum, faith primarily means personal loyalty, commitment to another person, fidelity, and the solidarity that comes from such faithfulness. This is what Jesus requires of his followers. (From Malina’s Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels.)