Your will be done: in doing God’s will to love God and neighbor, our trust deepens and God brings healing to all.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 27 C
Texts: Luke 17:5-10; Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; 2 Timothy 1:1-4; Psalm 37:1-9
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
This is a horrible parable.
Jesus’ parable is deeply embedded in a slave culture and appears to endorse the evil oppression that slaves lived under. American slave-owners in the 17th to 19th centuries must have heard this parable as God’s approval of them. And we live in a society marred and bent and shaped into oppression by four centuries of slave-owning and its aftermath. Why are we reading such a story in worship?
But consider a couple things. Jesus tells a parable, like always, to open his hearers’ imagination to see a deep truth about God and God’s people. And he always uses a metaphor familiar to his hearers. Slavery was real, and horrible, in Jesus’ day. But everyone lived alongside it or in it. They knew it. Especially Jesus’ audience.
Because Jesus didn’t tell this parable for people like us. Don’t forget, privileged and wealthy people like us by and large didn’t care for Jesus or his preaching, apart from a handful, like Joseph of Arimathea and Susanna, or Nicodemus and Joanna. Jesus proclaimed a reign of God where, as his mother sang, the hungry were fed and the rich were sent away empty, so you and I are always going to be challenged by Jesus in ways we won’t like. The ones who were drawn to Jesus and loved him came from the bottom of the social order, the ones who longed for God to overturn the world. Thousands of slaves became Christian in the first centuries of the Church. Virtually everyone who heard this parable live never had a slave in their life. And many likely were slaves.
Also, consider Jesus himself.
The Jesus telling this will, on a Thursday evening to come, strip off his robe, put on a towel, and act as a slave to his beloved followers, washing their feet. None of them ever had anyone else do that. Regular people washed their own feet. But they saw exactly what he was doing. That’s why Peter was so upset.
But Jesus said, “Yes, I’m your Lord and Master. But I’ve come to you to be your slave.” And on the cross he completed that serving, the all-powerful God of the universe enslaved to God’s own creatures. And Jesus said, if you follow me, you also must choose to be slaves to each other.
This is key to understanding this parable and where we fit in all this.
But first, why’d Jesus tell this to his poor listeners, even to slaves in the crowd?
Do you remember that other parable that would have landed funny on his listeners, the one about the shepherd and the one hundred sheep? That every shepherd in that crowd would have seen the parable as ridiculous? No shepherd in their right mind would abandon ninety nine to seek one. Exactly, Jesus said. That’s God’s ridiculous love.
He’s doing the same thing here. Slaves in his audience would’ve heard the first half of the parable and laughed bitterly. Yeah, like any master would ever pat your back after you worked all day, and invite you to sit down and be served. Good one, Jesus!
And after the second half they’d say, now you’ve got it right. More work after more work, and they still think you’re worthless. You come in beaten and exhausted and you still have to prepare a meal and serve the master. You’re telling the truth, Jesus.
But if Jesus has just perfectly described the evils of being a slave to people who already knew them, how can this open their imaginations to what God is doing in the world?
Well, this all started with the request, “Increase our faith.”
They wanted to learn how to trust God with their lives. Like Habakkuk today, who’s struggling to trust God is aware of the world’s violence and evil and will do something, these followers also struggle in a world that permits slavery and oppression and poverty.
Jesus says if they even have a tiny bit of faith, like a little seed, they could command a tree to plant itself in the ocean. And then he tells them this parable. But unlike us, they know exactly what is expected of slaves. Do your duty, expect no reward.
And Jesus says, that’s how it is with God. You’ll find your trust in God, the faith you seek, when you do God’s will without expecting reward. “Your will be done,” he taught them to pray. That’s your call. Choose to act as God’s slave – this isn’t forced on you – loving God and loving neighbor, and your trust in God’s restoration will grow.
It’s the answer Habakkuk gets. Stand your post, do your job, and you’ll see God’s healing. It’s what Timothy is urged. Remember your mother’s faith and your grandmother’s, but you’ll find yours when you live and act in the spirit of love and self discipline. Do your duty as Christ, and your trust that God’s mercy and justice are coming will grow.
And that’s our cue.
Over a thousand years the Church has proclaimed Christian faith as a rewards-benefit program, with incentives and disincentives. Be a Christian and do good and go to heaven, or do bad and go to hell, millions were taught over hundreds of years.
That’s nonsense to Jesus, God-with-us. It’s an evil carrot and stick model the Church taught. Living your life to get rewards or in fear of losing them has nothing to do with following Christ.
Jesus proclaims the path of Christ is when we choose to do God’s will because it’s our call, not for any reward. Because we are God’s slaves. But this is not the slavery of this world. We’re slaves to the God who became a slave to us to save our lives. And to save the creation. We serve the all-powerful Triune God who became subject to human abuse and torture and, in our human flesh, offered up divine life and love on the cross to love us all back home.
And true life, and the faith and trust we seek, is when we do the same. Offer yourself sacrificially in love for others, not for reward, but because it’s your job as Christ. Say, “your will be done” with every breath and every action. Because it’s your duty as Christ. As we sang in the psalm: commit your way to God and put your trust in God, and you will see what God will do.
I don’t have much interest in seeing a mulberry tree get planted in the sea.
But I do long to have my faith deepened. To grow in trust of God’s love for this world and this creation, and for me. I do hope, with Habakkuk, to see an end of oppression and violence and wickedness, including all the evils that slavery has embedded in our world.
Sometimes I can’t imagine how any of that can happen, any more than I can imagine a tree jumping up and rooting in the ocean. But God can. And God says, love God and love neighbor and I’ll make this all happen. Nothing is impossible for me, you’ll see.
And I can only say, “Yes, dear God. Your will be done. And help me do it.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen