October 6, 2013 – 20 Pentecost C, Proper 22
Habakkuk 1:1-2:4; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Luke 17:5-10
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.
The apostles said to the Lord, ˜Increase our faith.’
For the most part prayers fall into two categories. There’s the give me more category. And there’s the give me less category. Typically people wander around without much prayer at all in their lives, as long as things are going easily or to suit them, and then when we see a situation which we think is beyond our abilities, we ask for more strength, or more patience, more time, or more courage, more peace. And sometimes when we are overwhelmed by something we will ask for less: we may ask for less pain, or less conflict, or less turmoil. We seem to carry around inside us a fair amount of anxiety over how much of something we have. Even when things seem in a good balance to us that anxiety continues as we often then pray that God will keep it all this way. We usually think we need more of certain things, and less of others.
The apostles said to the Lord, ˜Increase our faith! We don’t have enough. We need some more.’ And, you know, it’s a pretty good prayer. It’s not like they are asking for a front row parking place or for their football team to win; they want more faith, more trust, more hope, more understanding. But the reason it’s a pretty good prayer is not in what it reveals about the apostles who uttered it. The reason it’s a pretty good prayer lies in what is now going to be revealed about the Lord to whom the prayer is uttered. And, as is usually the case with God when he speaks with his people, he is going to say: it’s all going to be different than you think; you’re not going to get exactly what you’re asking for; what you’re going to get is a whole lot better.
When the apostles ask for more faith, the first thing Jesus says is that if they had faith merely as large as a tiny seed then amazing things would result. Now maybe he’s saying to them that they are all idiots and berating them for not having even the smallest amount of faith, that if they had even a little faith, they wouldn’t be asking such a stupid question. But maybe not. Maybe he’s encouraging them and saying that faith isn’t exactly what they think it is.
Faith isn’t a huge shield that you carry around with you to fend off bad things. Faith isn’t a magic wand you wave to perform impressive and remarkable feats. Faith isn’t big and grand. Faith is tiny, like a little seed. And that tiny bit is enough. It seems like it’s not enough but it always turns out to be more than enough. The apostles ask for more faith. And the response Jesus gives them is that the tiny bit they have is plenty.
The apostles want more. They have done an inventory of what they have and they believe it’s not enough, that their storehouse needs increased provisions, that their character needs improving, that they themselves need to be increased in some measure. They have looked at the task and looked at themselves and they see they can’t handle it with what they’ve got and so they ask for more. And Jesus says, Hey, wait a minute. This isn’t about you. It’s not about what you’ve got to do. This is about the Lord himself and what he will do.
Faith is tiny. It is hard. Faith is living on that razor’s edge where you’re just not sure if you’re going to make it and then discovering that you have been pulled through by something greater than yourself. Faith is that place where we think we need more and we discover we have plenty. But if we never had to wonder if we had enough, then we couldn’t come to that place where we see that something other than us has made this possible.
Faith is coming to a place of strength but it necessarily involves a place of weakness. Because if we were always strong and capable we wouldn’t need faith. Faith involves not knowing, because if we already knew then we wouldn’t have to have faith. Faith is about trusting, not knowing, and that is a special sense of security. But faith also is trusting that God is doing something that really is impossible and it involves being in that tiny hard place of seeing that I cannot do it myself. Faith is the great hope that God will make things well, but it is also the acknowledgment that he is going to do that in his way and in his time. Faith is coming to that place of knowing that this isn’t about me or what I am to do, but this is about the Lord himself and what he will do.
So, in a way, Jesus is saying to the apostles: the fact that you think you need more means you’re right where I want you and it is proof positive that you have enough. If I gave you any more, you’d likely forget me altogether. And faith is remembering your place and God’s place.
And then Jesus addresses another apparent problem as he moves to the matter of a slave and his master. Slaves do not get special credit for their work. Their job is to serve and by serving they get no reward. Neither do they get to become the master. Now there’s a bit of a problem with our ability to hear this message because we don’t have slaves and we’re a little defensive about that whole subject of slavery. In our day, Jesus may say this: Parents of young children have certain responsibilities. And they don’t fulfill those duties to get any special reward from their children. Parents fulfill duties because they are parents. Little children don’t say, ˜Wow, I sure appreciate you changing my diaper and bringing me food.’ And when you come home from a long day they don’t have the house clean and supper ready. They’re children. And you are the parent. So be the parent and do what you’re supposed to do. That’s kind of what Jesus is saying when he talks about slaves here.
Now why does he say this? I think it’s because the apostles have come to think of faith as a possession or as an accomplishment that might bring them reward. And Jesus says that faith is not reward, it’s about living in the place where we are assigned. The parent who expects the child to take care of him is no longer the parent. The follower of Jesus who expects to be so large in his faith as to be noticed by the Lord is no longer a follower of Jesus. You don’t need more faith, Jesus says. You need to live in that tiny, hard, sharp place because that’s what’s best for you.
I still think this is a pretty good prayer the apostles utter. And it’s also a pretty good thing when we ask for more of something or less of another. Because then we have to live in that place of weakness turned to strength, of sorrow turned to joy, anxiety turned to security. It’s in that place where we realize that, not only do we not have enough but we really don’t have anything. And in that place we can see that our Lord has given us all we need, our very salvation. Faith is that tiny, hard place of accepting that only the Lord can provide and that the Lord will provide.
You don’t need more. You’ve got plenty. The tiniest bit of faith will reveal the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.