The Gospel lesson for this past Sunday contains one of two passages where our Lord says something about faith as big as a mustard seed. Is he speaking about the faith we should have? Or is He, rather, addressing the faith that we do not have? Jesus’ near-identical statement about mustard seeds and faith in Matthew 17 sheds light on Luke’s account in the 17th chapter of his gospel.
In the Matthew 17 passage, Jesus is clearly frustrated and irritated with His disciples’ lack of faith. His words about a mustard seed are a barbed indictment that His disciples don’t even have that much faith, as evidenced by the fact that they’ve not moved any mountains by simply telling them to move. It’s a standard Rabbinic way of making a point through extravagant, over-the-top exaggeration.
So, also, in Luke 17. I don’t think this passage would ever have been so misinterpreted as it has been, if the lectionaries didn’t commence this gospel lesson with verse 5, instead of including verses 1-4. The only way to make sense out of the passage is to read Jesus’ words here as essentially the same as they are in Matthew 17 — a retort to the Disciples’ unbelief, which happens to be expressed in Luke 17:5 as an ironic request for Him to increase their faith.
See the sermon audio for details. For here, though, Jesus goes on to show his disciples that their lack of faith is linked to their lack of faithfulness. The implication is easy to see: increase your faith by increasing your faithfulness.
I’m about to finish my homily for this Sunday’s worship (about four hours from now), and the Gospel lesson from Luke 16:19-31 is so jam packed with points of departure that I expect it could easily generate dozens of homilies, depending on which point of departure I might choose.
Which one will I choose this morning? The light the story sheds on the afterlife? The doctrine of hell? The relationship of this parable with the two preceding parables in Luke — the Unjust Steward and the Prodigal Son?
I know I’m going to mention the latter, because our Lord Himself crafted these parables to make a point, and that’s the point I should not fail to highlight. And that point? The “options” available to those who squander the riches entrusted to them by a Master who is both just and merciful. In the Prodigal Son, the son squander’s his father’s wealth. In the Unjust Steward, it is the unjust steward who squander’s his master’s wealth. In the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man squander’s his own wealth.
And the consequences? The prodigal and the unjust steward find mercy, because the one whose wealth they squander is merciful. The rich man, however, is different. His moment of truth comes after his death, and there is no mercy given at that point. Only the righteous judgment of a just God, who consigns the rich man to hell, not because he was rich, but because he spent his wealth on himself rather than alleviating the misery of the poor, epitomized by Lazarus who laid at his door with the dogs until he died.
When we get on the other side of death, our lives are going to make sense in a way that may be impossible for us to understand on this side of death. A verdict will be rendered on who we really are on this side of death, and we will pass into eternity in a condition that is being worked out this side of eternity. This side of death is the time when one may find mercy, not on the other. Today, not tomorrow, is the day of salvation.