A Daily Bread's worth of faith to persist in what you owe
Our Gospel from Luke this morning clarifies what it really means to be a disciple or learner and follower of Jesus. As you might imagine, faith is pretty central to learning from Jesus and following him. Why? Well because learning takes time and it takes persisting through all sorts of distractions, challenges, frustrations, worries, and confusions.
We get a taste of these kinds of things throughout the Gospel of Luke where Jesus demands a kind of emotional maturity from his followers. You need to live a holy life. That’s going to mean that you may not fit into the society around you. It means that you have to prioritize following God, even over your own family and friends, that you have to carry the Cross by letting go of your possessions - whether that’s your wealth or your way of perceiving the world or your emotional baggage; it requires that you live in a way that communicates God’s holiness and love so that others don’t take offense at the gospel. If one of you sins, he or she is to be rebuked with gentleness, and if repentance follows, you need to forgive endlessly.
In other words, persisting in learning from and following Jesus is not about memorizing some laws or even some sayings. It’s tough and can be actually painful because it involves an entire reorientation of one’s learned ways of living in the world. So it’s not surprising that the disciples say to Jesus: “Increase our faith!” Jesus says with some irritation, ‘I’ve given you all the faith you need, “if you had the faith of a mere, tiny little mustard seed, you could uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea.”
Jesus' irritation at their wavering trust in his provision of faith should inspire us to recall just who, throughout the Gospel, demonstrates faith. There’s the sinful woman who pours ointment and kisses Jesus’ feet — to the consternation of Pharisees — Jesus not only forgives her sins but also says “your faith has saved you.” He says the same thing to the blind beggar who wants to see again; to a Samaritan leper who comes back to thank him after he has been healed; to a woman who touches him in order to be healed of hemorrhages; and even to the enemy, a Roman centurion who presses Jesus to heal a trusted servant. To the Centurian, and indeed, to all of these very unlikely followers, Jesus affirms: “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
Just a mustard seed of faith that opened them up to God’s transformative work. But then comes that tough part of persisting with nurturing that little mustard seed of faith through life’s temptations, challenges, confusions, failures, and frustrations. This is what Jesus is getting at when, next, he tells a parable about a farmer who expects his slave to do what it is that the slave is supposed to do: “prepare supper … and serve me while I eat and drink.” Seek, ask, knock, and keep doing so and I will give you your daily bread. I will give you what you need for this particular moment. That doesn’t take a lot of faith - just enough for that day; what it does take, however, is the willingness to submit yourself to God’s transformation of who you are: your thoughts, your feelings, and your actions.
Therefore if faith - even that of a little mustard seed - is having our thoughts, feelings and actions transformed by God, then it involves being a servant or slave of God: wholly devoted to God’s ways, learning, growing (even if painfully and with struggle) and adapting, seeking, asking and acting in ways that God opens to you or presses you to follow even if these ways - career paths, jobs, relationships, tasks - don’t fit with how you thought things should really go or how you’d like to control things to go. It is the servant who submits to the Father as Jesus the Son did - the one who is last in the world’s eyes because he or she follows God’s ways - who will be first of all because he or she is in Jesus Christ who is the first. That is the slavery of which Christ speaks here. The good news for us in this is that since God’s life is the perfection of all things, his ways, his leading us - through challenge, rebuke, discipline, comfort, and love - we cannot actually manipulate it either as a power we can control or as a means for justifying or rewarding ourselves. Instead by means of just a mustard seed of daily opening to God, we are brought from slavery to the brokenness of sin, into the perfect freedom of relationship with God in Christ. AMEN