“And he (Jesus) said to his disciples, "Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea, than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.
Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive him."
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
And the Lord said, "If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, 'Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
Will any one of you, who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep, say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down at table'?
Will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, and gird yourself and serve me, till I eat and drink; and afterward you shall eat and drink'? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded?
So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'" (Luke 17:1-10)
Of Little Faith?
In this Lukan account, we find that Jesus teaches his disciples about faith expressed and its resulting outgrowth. First told is the warning against those offending the children of God. This section, found in all of the synoptic gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, is even passed over by one Lutheran lectionary rotation, but this section is important in that in these words Jesus issues strong condemnation against those who lure disciples who are infants in the faith into sin. The text also warned those who would refrain from forgiving them when they repent.
On the topic of faith, as requested by the disciples, Jesus related similarly to that which was seen in Mark 9:28 and Matthew 17:19-21. In response to apparent disappointments and perceived failures in ministry, which were felt both here and in the other gospel witnesses… faith was described by Jesus as a small seed that is sown. Jesus used this rather fundamental agricultural example in teaching, but it contained a profound meaning. He related that if the kernel of faith is received and cultivated, a faithful characteristic would emerge and provide great opportunity for future growth. Hence, the illustration of a tiny seed growing to become a huge tree is significant for our present day discipleship. The tree described, being planted in baptismal style in the waters of a restless sea that even may be hostile because of its saltiness… was seen as great potential growth for the church.
Related next, but only in Luke, Jesus then questioned his followers about their sinful, individual expectations. Through example given, he reprimanded against a false theology of personal glory. He taught that this errant theological thrust would give many persons the impression that foremost is individual reward for efforts. Instead, our Lord described a theology of the cross. In this way he taught that the role of the whole church, including those individual and foundational disciples, was planted toward a faith expression that would unexpectedly move them into an abundant future.
Why So In Luke?
We may ask rightly here why this latter text existed singularly in Luke? What lesson can we learn from Luke’s particular message to his diaspora churches in the Roman Empire in the latter days of the first century A.D.? In seeking answer, first we find that using the apostolic example... a warning was sent to Luke's churches and thus our own… against the quest for glory. The text revealed that already there were in the apostolic age, those who sought personal gain in the new found faith expression of Christianity. We are called therefore in today’s church to pay close attention, just as those ministering in those early days.
We must also note that we work in a sinful world where prosperity theology tempts us greatly. We find that we are not to use the worldly measures of church attendance and great treasure accumulated as signs of our personal or corporate fidelity. Instead, as we nurture those new to the faith we are to heed this dire warning. We must adhere to a different spirit.
In this lesson, Luke related from the common “”Q” source that our Lord described faith as that quality given by God as seed. He tells us that faith given by the power by the Spirit may grow into a great work. But faith and its growth were portrayed as occurring in everyday happenings cultivated willingly through the Spirit, worked out of a thankful response to the call that is given to all disciples. Faith, because it is given by the Holy Spirit, is not a trait nurtured and shown as an individual possession. Faith possessed is not a foundation for boasting. Faith is a work of the Holy Spirit that should be expressed by both individuals and the church… through lowly service. This faith expressed is the basis for forgiveness and restoration of the world around us.
We in the modern church must note that the gospel message is yet to be preached. Forgiveness of sin is to be made available again and again… to those who around us who may soon repent and turn. Thus faithful partnership in our work within the kingdom will be indeed blessed by the Creator through Christ our Lord. The kingdom will be forthcoming as promised, both now and in the future… as formed by the Holy Spirit. Surely it is God who indeed planted all this through the waters of baptism and the gift of the Spirit.