A previous blog column on this same topic, from three years ago.
We want more! We don’t have enough, and it’s your job to give it to us! And we must have it NOW!
I can’t quite shake the idea that Jesus’ disciples often acted like spoiled children. Or were they really as dense as the Gospel writers would have us believe, considering how often they just didn’t “get it”?
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, “Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 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 17:5-10 NRSV
Maybe we read Luke’s account simply from our own cultural setting, a consumer society based on making more, using more, discarding more, needing more, but ultimately never ever achieving enough. Everything is quantifiable, and to focus instead on qualitative matters doesn’t even register.
For some reason we’re supposed to care which new movie took in the most box-office receipts on its opening weekend. Likewise, political conversation centers around who’s raised the most money, run the most TV commercials, and outspent his or her opponent. Who has now made it onto the list of the world’s richest people? And if somebody new is on the list of the top 100 or 400 or whatever number is chosen, that means as well that somebody is dropped off the list because they’re not worth as much as they used to be–or alternatively, they’re not worth as much as somebody else: the newest “new thing.”
Of course, that’s how we judge winners (and losers) in our society. And it’s the winners that matter, of course. We have little if any regard for losers. Perhaps the same was true in Jesus’ day, as well.
His disciples didn’t want to be losers. They wanted to succeed in attracting more followers to Jesus, to “grow the movement,” to increase his influence and power. Yet Jesus appeared to be not interested in that approach at all. “You don’t need more power,” Jesus essentially told them. “You’ve got all you need. Look at that big old mustard plant over there. It’s the biggest of all the shrubs around here, and do you realize it started out as the tiniest of seeds.”
Maybe the disciples wanted more power/faith to impress people, and that alone would attract more people to Jesus. They simply didn’t understand that God’s power (faith) comes to them–and us–as a gift. We can’t on our own increase it; but we can trust in God’s power and love and promises; we can be faithful, in imitation of how Jesus himself was perfectly faithful to God’s promise.
Empowered by Paul’s teaching ministry, the writer of 2 Timothy pointed out the importance of faithfulness extending from one generation to the next: grandparents to parents to children to grandchildren. That line of thought extends across the centuries to our own day.
Increase our faith! What nonsense, Jesus says. You’ve already got all you need, but you don’t recognize it. You don’t connect to that divine power and use it. We are (and here the cultural dissonance gets in the way) but slaves to that divine power. We don’t want to hear a call to be slaves to anything in the 21st century. We’re free men and women, with individual rights, living in a democratic society. And we don’t want to be slaves to our addictions (booze, drugs, sex, you name it), either.
Yet the Gospel writers and letter writers in the New Testament (along with Old Testament prophets, psalmists, historians, and scribes) keep calling us back, to remember that God is still in charge of this world. Sure, we humans have made a mess of things more times than can be counted even though there are other, better, more ennobling moments in human history.
The power of God is there: reach out in trust and faithful living. Our congregations may not be the biggest or have the most money (chances are good they won’t be–but that’s probably another sermon for another week). Our congregations can be, must be, a reflection of God’s power and love.
The hard truth is this: We already have “enough.”
- Scandal, Faith and Forgiveness – faith (friarmusings.wordpress.com)
- Basic Training for Disciples (joequatronejr.wordpress.com)
- Just Fulfilling My Duty — Lectionary Reflection (Pentecost 20C) (bobcornwall.com)
- Pentecost: Year C, Proper 22 (prayerbookguide.wordpress.com)
- We Have Work To Do – 2 Timothy 1:8-10 (themorningthirst.wordpress.com)
- Luke 22:24-30 (houseofthedread.wordpress.com)