Year C, Proper 22
This week has been the perfect storm of on-going church events and family health crises. So I apologize for the late arrival of this blog into your email boxes and on to the website. I hope it still arrives at a helpful moment.
Once again Jesus is throwing us curve balls in the text from Luke. What to do with his cryptic words? I confess that after my last couple of weeks, the cry of the disciples is particularly poignant to me. “Increase our faith!” I am sure you can think of similar times in your own life. Though Jesus’ answer may sound stark to us, it is given with his usual proclivity for hyperbole and I would suggest humor! He seems to be teasing the disciples a bit. “Come on, guys! You do have faith! Don’t underestimate it. Use it!” In her essay on this text, Rev. Jennifer Moland-Kovash, likens his response to a coach with a team of young baseball players begging to be taught new skills.[i] I found her essay quite helpful in reflecting on the passage (http://christiancentury.org/article/2016-08/october-2-27th-sunday-ordinary-time ) She brings the 2 Timothy passage into the conversation on increasing faith reminding us to draw on the well-springs of faith within our communities. Instead of adopting a scarcity stance in regard to faith we can look for its sometimes quiet abundance in the lives of people we have known and that still work among us.
Our texts from the Hebrew scriptures this week fill me with sadness. They remind me of the on-going crisis in Syria and Iraq as the US and Russia try to intervene in the devastating war with the militant group, ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. As the writer of Lamentations weeps with the city of Jerusalem, I could not help but think of Aleppo and Mosul and so many other cities in ruins in Iraq and Syria. I would never presume that “[God] has made [them] suffer for the multitude of their transgressions” as the writer says of Jerusalem. As I sit with the passages from Lamentations, Psalms and Habbakuk, I am deeply aware that we could all take to heart the destruction of innocent people and their homes around the world due to humanity’s collective transgressions that lead to warring ways instead of peace. If you are going to preach on any of these texts, I would urge you to discover stories from those places where people live in rubble and children play in streets with armed soldiers. Look for stories of hope, but do not neglect the power of lamentation. For only when we externalize our grief in mourning can we move on to real hope and take action from that light within the darkness.
In his commentary on Luke, Interpretation: Luke, Fred Craddock tells us that Jesus’ startling words in Luke 17:7-10 are a parable. They begin as many parables do in Luke with the phrase, “Who among you….”, a signal to Jesus’ audience that he is going to tell a story. Jesus’ parable in this passage rings harshly in 21st century ears because of our abhorrence of slavery. It is not a common cultural practice as it unfortunately was in Jesus’ day. We do not regularly see slave/master relationships. When we do hear of them they are stories of people viciously exploited for labor or sexual practices. Craddock advises that we look carefully for a contemporary analogy. It cannot simply be found in the employer/employee relationship for slaves had double duty in the fields and in the house.[ii] They were on 24/7 so to speak.
All this past week I have been toying with a contemporary analogy to lay along side this parable. So that we can lay the parable along side our own lives. It seems that Jesus is implying in concluding phrase that we go the second, third and fourth miles, etc. and etc. in our faith inspired service. 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 17:10). We are the ones in service not the masters ordering others about. Yet we know that we are in service along with Jesus building the kingdom of God, in service to One who brings justice and love in abundant measure. And we know that we are not “worthless.” We are beloved.
So what to do with this parable? How to understand? The best analogies I came up with were around the parent/child relationship and perhaps, the nurse/patient relationship. In these analogies the child and the patient are actually in the master role. As a parent I know that I have willingly gone the second, third, fourth (and on and on) miles, not counting the cost. Tired as I might have been I did not hesitate to get up in the night at the call of a frightened four year old or sit with a third grader night after night as he struggled to learn how to write a paragraph. Even after a full day of my own work. When I was a chaplain I saw nurses go the extra miles time and again for patients and families that were sometimes grateful and sometimes not. And go home to care for their own families. Playing with these roles might bring us some clue to Jesus’ parable. What roles in contemporary society can you find that will shed light on this text? How will you tell those stories?
Jennifer Moland –Kovash shared a story from her life that helped me reframe Jesus’ master/slave parable. I will quote it verbatim below because it came in Christian Century email and I did not find it on the website. Jennifer is co-pastor of All Saints Lutheran Church in Palatine, IL and a regular contributor to the Christian Century blog, “Sunday’s Coming.” Should you choose to tell her or a variation on it, please credit her!! Better yet let it inspire your own!
“It’s nothing fancy”
“My grandmother was well into her 90s when I called ahead to let her know we’d be stopping to see her the next day. “I’ll make lunch,” she told me. I protested: that wouldn’t be necessary; I didn’t want her to go to the trouble. She finally acquiesced about lunch, and I hung up thinking I had won.
I should have known better. She had more than nine decades under her belt of doing things her way.
We arrived as scheduled at her small, tidy apartment, our new baby in tow, exhausted from being new parents and traveling, so that my grandmother could meet her newest great-grandchild. After she held the baby and cooed over him, she said with a hint of smugness. “I made cake. Let’s have some cake. It’s nothing fancy. Would you like some coffee?”
So we had cake and coffee, because I wouldn’t let her make lunch for us. As we thanked her profusely, she kept repeating. “It’s nothing fancy; its just cake.”
My grandma wouldn’t have prefaced her statement about the cake with “I am a worthless slave,” but her belief that she was only doing what she should have done rang loud and clear. When someone visited, she served something—lunch, coffee, a little something sweet. I should have known better than to try to change how things were done.
I’ve knowN many other people who have shrugged off the thanks I have offered them, saying that they’re simply doing their job, or doing what they ought to have done. I, too, become uncomfortable or don’t know how to respond when people thank me for doing what I ought to have done.
I never would have considered not saying thank you, but I know that’s not what motivated my grandmother, or any of the others I have thanked. We don’t do it for the thanks; we serve those we love because it’s what Jesus calls us to do. Besides—don’t worry; it’s nothing fancy. It’s just cake. Let’s have coffee.”
Blessings on your story journey this week,
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2016 and beyond. Commentary, photos and stories from other commentators may be reprinted only with permission.
[ii] Fred Craddock, Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Luke, (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1990, 200.)