Luke 17:5-10 The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" 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.
"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? 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!'"
Reflection Oh dear. What is Jesus doing? First he tells me if I have even a smidge of faith I can move mountains, or at least mulberry trees. Me, a Christian, free and empowered. Then in his next breathe he tells me I am a slave, not only a slave, a worhtless slave. Me, a Christian, under command and dutiful. I wonder if these contradictory statements were the scriptures that inspired Martin Luther’s impassioned writings about the relationship of faith and works?
In Luther’s view, it is all about our interior state. External acts, no matter what they are (fasting, worship, performing sacred duties, doing secular acts of righteousness), will gain us nothing in God’s economy. There is only one thing necessary for Christian life and that is faith, faith in the word of God. Moses preached this to the Israelites before they entered the promised land. “Man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deut 8.3) Centuries later Jesus repeated Moses’ words which became the cornerstone of Luther’s theology. (Matt 4.4)
The Word of God, the gospel preached, sets us free and saves us. The thing is, we cannot receive the gospel good news by any works that we can do. We can only receive the Word of God by faith. In Deuteronomy we hear the law...”Live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord.” But like the Israelites, we are unable to follow the letter of the law. When Jesus re-speaks these words he gives them to us not as law, but as good news, the gospel. What we are not able to do by works we are given by faith... even faith “the size of a mustard seed!” We are set free from the bondage of the law, free to be in obedient relationship with God.
Which brings us to the part about being slaves. Slaves know they have a master and align their will with the will of their master. This is the appropriate relationship between humanity and God. By faith we honor God, trust God and consent to be obedient to the will of God. In other words, we are God’s slaves. As slaves we are to do God’s work, good works for the benefit of others. Good works will never earn us God’s favor. Rather good works are the response, or natural outflowing from God’s favor much as good fruit are born from a good tree.
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