The good thing about the lectionary—or the bad thing, if you see it that way—is that we must read together and grapple with scripture we don’t like, with passages that make us uncomfortable. For me, this week’s gospel reading (Luke 17:3-10) is one of those; a passage I personally find strange at first glance. In the parable it includes, Jesus seems to advocate domination of the slave or servant in the story, advocating a power structure in which some people are dominated by others. But this contradicts Jesus’ other stories and actions, and Jesus’ general teaching and value system in which lower-status people are lifted up and higher-status people brought low, in which “the first will be last and the last will be first.” This parable is included in a whole string of teaching sayings and stories organized by Luke, and one of them—right before this passage—shows the ‘rich man’ languishing in the underworld because he has treated his slave poorly, while his slave is commended to heaven and richly blessed. What’s the deal then with this present story about slaves or servants characterized as worthy only for their labor, their servitude of one in power? It can grate on our sensibilities and shouldbecause of white domination in our country, because of how slavery in our country’s history has crippled us morally ethically spiritually and redounded gravely through history for families of enslaved peoples. So we have to work a bit to understand the point of this parable or teaching story.
First, it’s good to remember that a parable is not an allegory or a moral story in which each detail means something; instead, it is essentially a snapshot. A little picture that teaches something as a whole, as a snapshot. The picture of this parable of the servant expected to serve is basically saying: Get to work! Don’t expect to have perfected faith before you do your work; do it now! Right before the story, the parable, the apostles have demanded of Jesus: Give us more faith! In other words:
Make us greater! In other places where the disciples do this—where they are fixated on their own status or religiosity, Jesus gets testy. And in this passage, that’s what’s happening. Jesus is exasperated with them.
In response, he talks about only needing a tiny bit of faith to get to work. Then, whatever your work in this world is, that should be your focus. The faith will come. In fact, it you want faith, you will have enough for what you need to do—even something as ridiculous as casting a mulberry bush into the sea! Even something as useless as that! Just think of all the non-useless things you might do with a kernel of faith. In other words, don’t worry about your faith—you will have what you need. What you also need is to stop worrying about your religiosity, your greatness, and to get to work with whatever you have.
I had been thinking about this notion before coming to this passage. I’d been scoping out a few different things to do (I won’t go into detail here, because they don’t matter). But in my search, my effortfulness to do this or that important thing, in part because I thought I’d measure up more in the minds of others if I did them, I met closed door upon closed door. Then, I’m brought back to writing: something the Spirit guided me to, called me to, in my younger adult years, and perpetually ever since. The message as I’ve met closed doors about other efforts or work has always been: You are a writer. For heaven’s sake, write. Be faithful to this work. Do it and stop worrying about other ‘great things’ you think you should be doing. The door is open here; just do the work for which you are gifted and called, and do it now. There is nothing great about doing what you are not called to do with your one precious life. That is the work of others; let them do it. You, Tricia, need to write.
There is a challenge, maybe even sarcasm, in Jesus’ response to the disciples’ demand for more faith in the Luke passage and the ensuing story. In this passage, I think Jesus is saying, Listen, you already have enough faith for what you need to do, what you are called to do. Use what you have. Trust what you have. Be faithful with the faith you have and stop asking for more. Stop trying to win the award for the best follower or the most important servant and just get to work.
You have the faith you need.
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