The text this week is Luke 17:5-10. This presents two short parables that are both somewhat uncomfortable. The first has Jesus, in response to the disciples request for more faith, telling them that if they had the faith of a mustard seed you could uproot trees. Second, Jesus then tells the tale of a slave who does all the menial tasks of the household and not getting any thanks, and what’s more, the slave should not expect any. As I said, uncomfortable.
A Little Bit Faithful?
I would not interpret this passage to mean that Jesus is accusing the disciples of lacking faith. They have already, at this point, been exorcising demons and healing. I think what Jesus is doing here is to state what is not obvious to the duh-ciples (as well as us). What should be obvious is that faith is a quality, not a quantity. You either possess faith or you do not. It’s like claiming to be a little bit pregnant, it just does not make sense.
If you possess faith, then you have all you need to accomplish what you ever could as a fallen human in God’s creation. More importantly you have all you need to be confident in your salvation and your eternal relationship with God. That is the point of the analogy to moving a tree and planting it in the sea. What faith God has given us through Jesus is enough.
Really, Worthless Slaves?
The next story Jesus tells seems random and unrelated to the point He is making regarding faith. Jesus talks about a slave who is tasked with doing the daily chores both outside and inside. He asks the disciples if they would thank the slave for what he/she was doing. The clear answer is no they would not. The slave was commanded and should not expect thanks for doing what the slave should have done.
This seems harsh, but not upon further reflection. I think the analogy serves to remind us that we are the slaves in God’s creation. Slaves to the faith we have been given, slaves to the love God has shown us, and poured into our hearts, and slaves to the response we should show for having been given the gift of well…everything.
First, while this text does not state it, there are many places in Scripture that tie obedience to joy. Psalm 1:1-3; Psalm 119:111; 2 Corinthians 1:24; Hebrews 13:17 among other passages shows this connection. The author of Luke also makes many connections between God’s grace and the actions of ministry. This is seen in Luke 1:14; 2:10; 10:17; 13:17; 15:5, 7, 10, 32; 19:6, 37; 24:52; Acts 5:41; 8:39; 11:23; 13:48, 52; 15:3, 31.
Second, Jesus suggests that we are to say that “We are worthless slaves; we have only done what we ought to have done!” (Verse 10). I would not take this to be some sort of insult. It is, I think, a reminder that our actions and works are worthless. Nothing we could do would or could ever be worthy of God. The very idea smacks of “works righteousness” (the hoary notion that we can work our way into salvation). Jesus is reminding us that anything we do in this regard is something we ought to have done.
It is, I think, not coincidental that the slave analogy, with all its assumptions about doing what we should do anyway and its reminder that all such works are ultimately worthless, comes after the parable about faith. First, we accept the faith that God gives us. If we have that faith, then we have all we need. Then, we perform what works we can in response to the gift of salvific faith. These will never be perfect as we are imperfect creatures. They will certainly be seen as worthless if we perform them to manipulate God into saving us. He already has saved us. We do what we do as an act of gratitude and as an act of worship. It might be alright to consider ourselves as worthless slaves, if we remember that God does not, or He would not have sent His son to us. In the end this passage reminds us that first we believe, then we obey.
Praise Be to God