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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Sunday, October 6, 2019           

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 17:5–10                     

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? 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!’” (NRSV)

The disciples are pleading for faith here. They’ve heard that word on Jesus’ lips several times already in Luke’s Gospel. To mention just one: a woman washes Jesus’ feet with oil and tears, eliciting righteous condemnation from religious authorities. Jesus simply tells her, “Your faith has saved you.”

Jesus’ teaching right before verse 5 contends that his disciples must forgive a person who sins against them seven times a day so long as they repent. They seem wise enough to know such grace is not humanly possible. It takes faith—bold, defiant, and norm-challenging faith like that of the woman’ who bathed Jesus’ feet.

Such faith is hard, hence the apostles’ plea. Yet Jesus wants them to know they already have it. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed . . . ,” he answers them. The grammar of the construction assumes that they do have such faith, like if someone said, “If you’re a Christian . . .” The faith they’re pleading for they already have. Maybe they’re just not using it.

The way Jesus illustrates this to the apostles is uncomfortable, because it draws upon a first-century household convention of master and slave. But sit with the discomfort and see that Jesus is assuring us that we, as his disciples, are in the position of the servant and always will be. That, too, is faith, to do “only what we ought to have done.”

Maybe our discipleship doesn’t need greater faith but a more active deployment of what faith we presently have.

Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief. Amen.

Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry

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