NINETEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
October 7, 2007 (Lectionary 27)
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Psalm 37:1-9 (Ps. 37:5)
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Lamentations 3:19-26 (Lam. 3:23) or Psalm 137 (Ps. 137:7)
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Day of Thanksgiving (Canada)
October 8, 2007
Psalm 100 (Ps. 100:4)
1a. CONTEXT: LUKE 17:5-10
Our pericope occurs in the midst of the section of Luke's Gospel
between the Transfiguration and Passion Week. Jesus has set his "face
to go to Jerusalem" (10:51). On the way he has sent his disciples
forth in mission and has confronted his foes (notably the Pharisees)
and contrasts the values of the Pharisees and Scribes with that of his
disciples (11:37-12:59). With acts of miraculous power and with
teaching he seeks to prepare his disciples for life after his death
and resurrection, though they fail to understand that. In Chapter 16
Jesus contrasts the function of the Torah with that of the faith of
his disciples, again contrasting his disciples with the Pharisees,
concluding with the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus with the
provocative quote of 16:31 as its climax. Our lesson today completes
this thought with Jesus providing private instruction to his
disciples. To appreciate Luke 17: 5-10 more fully, one should also
read verses 1-4. Those verses provide a context of forgiveness and
its relationship to faith that adds meaning to our pericope.
Luke 17:5-6 find a parallel in Matthew 17:20 and a variation of a
parallel in Matthew 21:21. This Q saying on faith follows immediately
in Luke's Gospel another Q saying on forgiveness 17:3b-4 (Matthew
18:15; 18:21-22) and a Markan saying on the results of causing
someone to sin 17:1-2 (Mark 9:42; Matthew 18:6-7). Luke places them
with some unique material in the Parable of the Servant's Wages (17:7 10) to establish his point on the nature of faith and discipleship.
1b. TEXT: LUKE 17:5-10
Lk. 17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"
Lk. 17:6 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.
Lk. 17:7 "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'?
Lk. 17:8 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'?
Lk. 17:9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?
Lk. 17:10 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!'"
cf., http://www.greekbible.com/ for additional helps.
2. Analysis: Luke 17:5-10
Luke 17:5 hoi apostoloi - the Apostles. Luke uses apostolos (one
sent forth) six times in his Gospel (6:13; 9:10; 11:49; 17:5;
22:14; and 24:10) and though they appear in close proximity in
verses to mathetes (disciple - taught or trained one) they are
not synonymous terms. Disciples refers to the group of followers
of Jesus who were present in much of his earthly ministry,
including the women who followed him. The Apostles were the 12
chosen from amongst the disciples to be the future leaders of the
church. To use the term apostoloi here rather than repeating
17:1 mathotas indicates the importance of this question for Luke.
Luke 17:5 prosthes omin pistin - Add to us faith, Increase our faith
Luke 17:6 ei echete pistin - if you have/possess faith. Pistis &
Pistos (faith and faithful) occurs 16 times in Luke (5:20, 7:9,
7:50, 8:25, 8:48,12:42, 16:10, 16:11, 16:12, 17:5, 17:6, 18:8,
18:42, 19:17, and 22:32) and 4 of those times (7:9, 12:42, 17:6,
19:17) are in the context of Q writings. Whereas most of the uses
of faith or faithfulness describes a general condition, in Q
"Each occurrence is in a context where faith or faithfulness is
acted out in some specific way-by word or deed. Thus the context
for the use of the word faith is that of the wisdom-prophetic
approach to action-by their fruits you will know them (p. 140,
Luke 17:6 sukamino - Sycamine tree, Black Mulberry Tree, a tree with
an extended root system, very difficult to uproot. Contrast with
Matthew 17:20 where mountain is used rather than sukamino.
Luke 17:7 arotriaonta ...poimainonta - plowing ... herding in the
sense of keeping sheep. These are examples of toilsome work not
symbols of ministry.
Luke 17:10 oti douloi achreioi esmen, o spheilomen poimsai
pepoimkamen - unprofitable slaves are we, we ought to do what we have done.
3. Strategy: Luke 17:5-10
The directions that this passage give us cause us to look
seriously at faith, not as a work, but as a gift. It is not
quantifiable. You cannot measure faith on a scale of 1 to 10, you
either have the gift or you don't. To use an old example you are
either pregnant or you are not, no one is a "liitle" pregnant. The
same is true of faith as Jesus shares with his apostles in this
conversation. That is the difference in the use of faith in vs. 5 by
the apostles, when they wish a quantity (on a continuum) and the use
of faith by Jesus in vs. 6 when he describes it as a gift that can do
powerful things (but as an either/or situation).
To have apostles ask this question is to put a great deal of
weight upon the question and the answer. Each time the apostles are
mentioned in Luke it is for a strong purpose. From their choosing in
6:13, to their return from their mission 9:10, to pronouncements of
their message and doom 11:49, to this basic question of faith 17:5, to
their presence at the Last Supper 22:14, to the resurrection
announcement in the upper room 24:10 the apostles are given a key
place in Luke's Gospel as the presence of the word illustrates a key
point. Perhaps Luke's community, as is the Christian Community in the
United States these days, was struggling with those who used works of
faith as a measure of their power, to rank themselves higher in the
community. Perhaps there was a struggle within the community as
faith seemed to "work" for some people and not for others. Whatever
the reason, Luke found it important to emphasize faith and forgiveness
(including vs. 1-4) as the "duty" (doing what they ought to do) of
disciples not something done for a reward.
The rewards of discipleship, Jesus in the pericope, implies is
not in working for some tangible reward, but comes incidentally in
doing that to which you are called. And thus Luke reinterprets Q to
match his theology of faith active in service as a natural response to
the gift, not as a sign of proving an amount of faith. It is in doing
one's duty without seeking profit (vs. 10) that amazing things can
happen - Sycamine trees can be planted into seas, or more amazing
things can happen. The offering of complete gracious forgiveness can
overcome the stumbling block, the "scandala" verse 1. As the parable
of the servant's wages points out, again even forgiveness is not done
to seek some reward, but is done because that is what disciples ought
Eduard Schwiezer on pages 264-265 in his book The Good News
According to Luke writes this of this passage:
"What vs. 10 requires is not a degrading confession of
sin but love that knows that its duty is never done. A
disciple of Jesus is not "worthless" because he is nothing
and can do nothing but because he can never begin to
fulfill everything left to do. This holds true for
community leaders, whom Luke may be thinking of....This
sets us free from all conceit which leads in turn to
judgment and comparison and feelings of inferiority, giving
insight into the fact that a life made meaningful by service
is a gift. Requested by his disciples to give with the
fullness of his authority (vs. 5), Jesus sets them free to
be natural and live a self-evident life on behalf of those
who need their service."
To be a disciple of our Lord then and now is to have the gift of
faith, not as a tool that can be used to better ourselves, but a gift
to enable us to live our lives doing that which we ought, i.e.
forgiving sins, caring for others, even those we don't like, as our
next pericope will indicate concretely.
4. References: Luke 17:5-10
Edwards, Richard A. A THEOLOGY OF Q - Eschatology, Prophecy, and
Wisdom Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976
Schweizer, Eduard -THE GOOD NEWS ACCORDING TO LUKE - translated
by David E. Green. Atlanta: John Know Press, 1984
Danker, Frederick W. JESUS AND THE NEW AGE According to St. Luke -
St. Louis: Clayton Publishing House, 1972
Gilbertson, James G. PC STUDY BIBLE - Seattle: Biblesoft, 1988
(Computer Study Bible and Concordance in NIV, KJV, and ASV).
5. Hymn Suggestions: Luke 17:5-10
LBW # Hymn Name
503 O Jesus, I have promised
230 Lord, Keep us Steadfast in Your Word
293/4 My Hope is Built on Nothing Less
357 Our Father, by Whose Name
433 The Church of Christ in Any Age
500 Faith of our Fathers
Exegete: Philip N. Gustafson [ Prphil@highvision.net ] is Pastor of St. Paul Lutheran and Reformation Lutheran Churches in Vandergrift, PA, in the Southwestern Penna. Synod of the ELCA. St. Paul-Reformation is an innovative cooperative ministry in Vandergrift [see: http://www.alle-kiskitoday.com/articles/956 ].