By Elizabeth Baumann
A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 17:1-10
1 Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for sin are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come! 2 It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Be on your guard! If a brother or sister sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4 And 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.”
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 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.
7 “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’? 8 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’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 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!’”
When I looked at the lessons given for today, I pretty quickly ruled out writing on this gospel because Jesus just sounds so mean. Work all day, come in and work some more, and don’t expect thanks, it’s only what’s expected from “worthless slaves.” What happened to “Come to me, all you who are weary … and I will give you rest”? This is about the last thing I want to hear from Jesus.
But then I realized something sounded familiar. Regularly, I’ll ask one of my little girls to do some small thing to clean up after themselves (clear a dish, pick up toys, put away shoes, etc.) and sometimes the response I get is an inquiry if there will be candy as reward for completing the task. In my imagination, my looks of astonished disbelief are enough of an answer. At some point clearing your dishes becomes so habitual that not only would you not dream of asking for candy for doing it, you don’t even think about it doing it at all. It doesn’t require effort.
Perhaps Jesus is suggesting something similar. God made us and saved us and calls us to faith. We are designed to serve him. Doing the thing you’re made for shouldn’t be hard. It sounds like Jesus is asking a lot of us — very possibly too much of us — in this gospel. To forgive lavishly, to have faith that can move mountains, to serve tirelessly and count ourselves worthless. But we were made by his Father through him, and he became one of us. He knows better than anyone what it looks like to be rightly ordered, to do what we were made for. It can feel hard; but as with children, it feels hard because we’re self-centered and badly ordered, not because he’s actually asking too much of us.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Nicaragua – Iglesia Anglicana de la Region Central de America
Christ the King Episcopal Church, Santa Rosa Beach, Florida