Mom, Mulberries & Mustard

 
I hate to say it, but my mom was right! There, I’ve said it. It took me over fifty years to admit it, but she was right – about many, many things. The thing she was right about, for the purpose of this devotional, is her frequent use of the phrase, “Goodness is its own reward.” My mom had lots of well-worn phrases – some learned from her own mom. (When she was wee, my mom would ask my granny for money to go to the cinema. This was often met with, “It’s too nice a day to sit in a dark theatre!” It took my mom years to discover that what her mom really meant was that she had no money to give her.)
 
Of course, this phrase “Goodness is its own reward” was usually deployed whenever I was asking for a monetary reward for having been good. My dad’s version was, “What do you want; a medal?!” Either way the meaning was clear – be good, and don’t expect a reward in return.
 
In Luke 17, Jesus is still on his journey to Jerusalem (to his destiny). In this section (verses 5-10) he continues his teaching about the cost of discipleship. Discipleship includes forgiveness (17:3-4), and at this point Jesus rather abruptly turns to faith. Now, the two may be unrelated topics; but that seems unlikely. On hearing the depth of forgiveness that they were to show, the apostles (the Twelve) ask Jesus for more faith. Jesus in return, issues a disguised criticism:
 
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 (vs. 6).
 
The implication is clear: they do not even have faith the size of a little seed. Ouch! But this connection with faith and forgiveness is clearly important to Luke. Matthew’s version of the Mustard Seed text comes right after the disciples are found to be incapable of casting out demons. For Luke, it comes after the teaching about forgiveness. Healing is central to Matthew, and forgiveness to Luke. Both healing and forgiveness require faith. And, the issue is not so much the size (amount) of faith, but the ‘kind’ of faith (genuine faith).
 
Then Jesus addresses the hearers of his teaching directly: “Who among you…” (vs. 7). And there follows a teaching about servanthood. This is a wee bit disturbing to modern ears, because this teaching centers of slavery:
 
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’? 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’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? (vs. 7-9).
 
The implication is that no, the slave has simply done what slaves are to do. This is a natural analogy for Jesus to use. The slave was the lowest member of the household, and of society. The slave stands in this text, as an example of service. As Jesus journeys towards his destiny, he points out that service and servanthood is the Christian destiny: a fundamental part of Christian discipleship.
 
Of course, knowing that humans are entirely capable of finding the sin of pride even in servanthood, Jesus delivers the Charlie Blyth punchline: What do you want, a medal?!
 
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!’
 

Faith, even the size of a mustard seed, brings the believer into a relationship with God that allows for a genuine relationship with the neighbor – a true relationship of community. And, that relationship involves forgiveness. Forgiveness is part of our servanthood. In fact, only in a posture of loving humility can we offer forgiveness. In that relationship we find love, light, mercy and joy – in fact, they are intrinsic to our relationship with Jesus. Love, light, mercy and joy are part of the eternal life which is the good news (the gospel) of Jesus. So, my mom was right all along: goodness is its own reward!

 

Shalom,

 

Pastor Ken+