The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost for Year C (Proper 22)

Try as we might (and we DID try,) we have not been able to produce a recording for the Lectionary Lab Live podcast this week. We’ll see about getting ‘er done again next week, fans; sorry!

Fortunately, Delmer’s keyboard is still working.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In her autobiography, Broadway actress Helen Hayes tells about her first attempt to cook a Thanksgiving turkey. Before bringing it out of the kitchen to the dining room table, Hayes announced to her husband and son: “Now, you know this is the first turkey I’ve ever cooked. If it isn’t any good, I don’t want anybody to say a word. We’ll just get up from the table without comment, and go to a restaurant to eat.” She then went back to the kitchen to get the tray. When she came into the dining room with the turkey; she found her husband and her son seated at the table with their coats, hats and gloves on; ready to go out to eat. They did not have much faith in her ability to cook a turkey.

In today’s gospel the disciples also suffer from a lack of faith.  Jesus said to them, “If you had even the faith of a mustard seed. . . “ and the seed of a mustard plant is very tiny indeed, like the head of a pin, really. The message seems to be that the disciples just don’t have enough faith. This is what Jesus meant. Jesus knew the disciples have all the faith they need. What they don’t have is an understanding of what it means to have faith.

In verse 1-4; Jesus has said to the disciples that they should forgive a sinner who repents. Then he adds, “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.”  No wonder the disciples cry out “INCREASE OUR FAITH!” How can Jesus expect any normal human being to forgive someone for treating them badly that many times?

If a person sins against me – treats me badly, sticks it to me – seven times in a row and seven times in a row they say they’re sorry; is Jesus saying he expects me to forgive the jerk every time? Really! Enough is enough. I want to know when it’s going to stop!  And yet; Jesus says forgive. So with the disciples, we  cry out, “INCREASE OUR FAITH! WE CAN’T DO THIS.” The gap between what Jesus asks us to do and our ability to do it is enormous.

And that is just the point of this lesson. We are thinking of faith as something human, something that we do, some especially intense sort of believing, or some really focused positive thinking that results in good things happening for us and ours. We think of faith from the human point of view and Jesus thinks of faith from God’s side of things. It only takes faith the size of a mustard seed to uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the ocean because it’s not our faith that does it – it’s God.

The disciples are worried about their ability to forgive as much as Jesus demands. So they ask for an increase in faith so that they will be able to perform this superhuman feat of humility and generosity and compassion. And Jesus tells them they don’t need a bigger faith. With the God of Israel just a little bit of faith is plenty because God does the work.

The disciples are fretting about the quality of their performance as disciples and followers of Jesus. They are worried about how “spiritual” and “faithful” and “religious” they will appear to their LORD and not incidentally, to their community. But Jesus carefully reminds them that in the life of faith it is not the believer who performs the act of power or receives the praise for it. Both the act and the credit belong to God.

Jesus’ parable about the master and the slave reminds us of the proper relationship between God and a person of faith. If we perform our acts of love and service to God out of a desire to earn praise on earth in this life or a secure spot in heaven in the next; we are missing the point; not only of this parable but also of the life of faith.

There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love. God’s love has been ours since before we were born; it washes over us every day, unbidden and unearned. It fills our lives, melts our hearts, softens our eyes, tenderizes our spirits and turns us away from our preoccupation with ourselves to a fascination with loving and caring for Christ by loving and caring for those whom God has placed in our midst for us to love.

The reality is this: we have all the faith we need to do great things for God. Or, to be more biblically and theologically correct; we have all the faith we need to allow God to do great things in, with and through us. Faith the size of a mustard seed is all that is necessary for God to put God’s power to work in our lives and in our world.

Today we are invited to humbly ask God to increase, not our faith, but rather our willingness to be used by God in any way God chooses.  Today we are invited to use what little faith we have to stay at the table – hat, coat and gloves off and put away – waiting patiently to receive whatever God has in store for us.

Amen and amen.

One thought on “The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost for Year C (Proper 22)

  1. Thanks for this reflection on today’s gospel -great!
    I hope your technical and any other problems in producing the podcast are resolved.
    I love to listen to the two bubbas discussing the lectionary readings. Thanks so much.

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