Thursday, 29 September 2016

Enough faith.

Luke 17: 5-10

This story of Jesus and the disciples is an odd one, isn’t it.
The story begins with the disciples approaching Jesus with a seemingly reasonable request:  “Lord! Increase our faith!” .
Jesus has been teachingthings like: Love your enemies, bless those who curse you. Forgive even when it’s not deserved. Give without expecting anything in return. Be ready to take up your cross.
So maybe it’s no surprise that the disciples ask for an upgrade. If we are going to be those kinds of disciples we’re going to need a boost to our faith.

But the way Jesus responds makes me think of the scene in the film “Oliver!” where the beautiful blond haired urchin takes his emptied bowl of gruel and asks “Please, sir, can I have some more?”. You will remember the roar of disapproval from Mr Bumble - the portly man in charge -  “MORE?!”.

Jesus’ response to the disciples feels a bit like that “More… faith?” and he tells them that if they had faith as small of a mustard seed, they could command a mulberry tree to uproot itself and replant in the sea…and it would obey.
He then proceeds to ask them whether a servant would be so cavalier as to demand a meal with his master, or special praise for doing his basic household duties.
Now, this may strike us as a little odd because we know Jesus wasn’t in the habit of speaking unkindly about slaves or people of low status. In last week’s lectionary portion of this gospel, he tells how the miserably poor and sick Lazarus will be taken into the bosom of Abraham, and he had many parables to tell about the upside-down nature of the kingdom of God, where the lowest and the least are given special honour.

So what is Jesus trying to say to the disciples?

It might help us to think a little about the Hebrew word ‘Dayenu’ – it means ‘it would have been enough’.
I first encountered the word in a jolly little song which is often sung at the Jewish festival of the Passover. It’s what some people call these days ‘an ear-worm’: a catchy tune which is hard to get out of your head once you’ve got it there the chorus goes “Day-dayenu, day-dayenu, day-dayenu, dayenu dayenu”.

The verses list all the ways in which God has blessed the people of Israel, but it’s done in a particular pattern:

If He had rescued us from Egypt, only rescued us from Egypt
but not punished the Egyptians,
It would have been enough! (Dayenu)

If He had punished the Egyptians,
but not divided the Red Sea before us,
It would have been enough…

If He had divided the Red Sea before us,
but not supplied us in the desert for 40 years,
It would have been enough…

If He had supplied us in the desert for 40 years,
but not brought us to the land of promise,
It would have been enough…

If He had brought us to the land of promise,
but not made us a holy people,
It would have been enough…

I hope you’re getting the hang of it… it goes on for 15 verses, each time with the chorus Dayenu.
I have a Jewish friend who can’t stand the song!
The song is first found written as a song about 1000 years ago – but the concept of remembering all the ways in which God has rescued, blessed, and saved his people is the whole purpose of the Passover meal – and the statement ‘dayenu’ – ‘it would have been enough’ is thought to be a very ancient practice.
We know that Jesus and his disciples celebrated Passover – and when they did they may well have said of God’s great acts, that any one of them ‘would have been enough’. Dayenu.
Is that what Jesus is saying to his disciples when they ask for more faith? “Enough” ,‘dayenu’ you already have enough faith – you don’t need more.

Then what is the purpose of Jesus’ description of the servant? The faithful servant doesn’t ask for more – doesn’t ask for rewards or upgrades – but gets on with the task of serving. That is what faith in Jesus is about – not having more and more proof of God’s blessing, not being filled, on demand, with a great sense of purpose, not being lifted into some holy state of certainty that Jesus IS God with us – but serving, following, trusting.

Great, flashy shows of faith are about as useful as uprooting a tree and planting it in the sea: real faith is falling into line behind Jesus and seeking to serve the kingdom of God of which he teaches.
Maybe the mistake the disciples make isn’t so much in asking for more faith, but in thinking they don’t already have enough, in thinking God’s grace is insufficient.  I think we can imagine Jesus with a twinkle in his eye as he warns the disciples that they already have enough faith.

But surely Jesus performed miracles himself? Why did he not hold himself in check and after a hard day of teaching mutter ‘dayenu’.. enough?
The miracles – the signs and wonders performed by Jesus and described in the gospels  - always had a point. They healed, liberated, fed, blessed, restored and comforted people. And so they pointed to the mission of Jesus and the purpose of the Kingdom he announced.

If we are to be disciples of Jesus who are full of faith – faithful – we need to follow Jesus as closely as we can. We don’t need to ask for evidence from God that we are on the side of the blessed, but we need to follow Jesus by answering his own call to us to …heal, liberate, feed, bless, restore and comfort people.
And all in service of Jesus and for the glory of God.  Amen.

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