Here’s what we got – A seemingly scolding Jesus, a miraculous self replanting mulberry tree, and an admonition to be like slaves – OH MY!
I’ll start with something easier – doubt.
“I want to tell you a story. A cargo ship sank one night. It caught fire and went down. And only this one sailor survived.
He found a lifeboat, rigged a sail and being of nautical discipline turned his eyes to heaven and read the stars. He set a course for his home, and exhausted fell asleep.
Clouds rolled in. And for the next twenty nights, he could no longer see the stars. He thought he was on course, but there was no way to be certain. And as the days rolled on, and the sailor wasted away, he began to have doubts. Had he set his course right? Was he still going toward his home? Or was he horribly lost and doomed a terrible death? No way to know.
The message of the constellations, had he imagined it because of his desperate circumstances? Or had he seen truth once and now had to hold on to it without further reassurance?
There are those of you in church today who know exactly the crisis of faith I describe. And I want to say to you: Doubt can be a bond as powerful and sustaining as certainty. When you are lost, you are not alone.
So preaches Father Flynn in this excerpt from Act 1 of John Patrick Stanley’s play – DOUBT.
Doubt was a powerful and sustaining bond present as the well intentioned, yet misguided disciples proclaimed, “Increase our Faith!”
Who could blame them!
Jesus was a tough act to follow. They heard his messages of peace, witnessed his actions of active ministry as they journeyed with him – healing, teaching, caring for the poor, taking care of the most marginalized, comforting those in need, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, forgiving wrongs, addressing injustices, they must have been feeling quite overwhelmed.
It’s no wonder doubting that they didn’t have enough faith to follow Jesus’ example, they cried out, “Lord, increase our faith.”
At first glance, this Gospel appears to characterize a faith that is strange and irrelevant.
Jesus comes across throwing a little shade – a little bit of faith can perform miracles, if you had it you can replant a tree in water, and by the way we should all see ourselves as worthless slaves.
What does this message say to those of us who doubt we are up to the task of following Jesus?
What does it say to those of us who have been marginalized, enslaved by a society that oppresses the other, those who are forced to humbly accept their status?
What does it say about our peculiar and shameful institution of slavery, a dehumanizing and immoral part of our history, that continues today with trafficking of human beings?
As we look beyond a cursory glance, Jesus helps us to better understand our gift of faith and what it means to follow him.
In their own naiveté, the Apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith, as if it’s a quantifiable commodity – the more you have, the more you are able to accomplish, those with more, outrank those of us who feel we have less.
Jesus isn’t on the same page. He isn’t talking about faith that is more powerful in large doses, faith that is dormant certainty, and absolute belief that singles us out from others.
He is describing faith in action, a faith that he embodies as we follow His example.
And all we need is this – faith the size of a tiny mustard seed.
For the faith that Jesus describes is not measured by our strengths and our weaknesses, it is a gift of the Spirit that binds us with God, enables us to join in God’s creative work and Jesus’s redemptive ministry as we build God’s reign on earth.
The life a modern day Christian is to ignite that holy pilot light of faith within, and actively live our faith in service to God’s Creation and God’s people.
It is a willingness to contribute our spiritual gifts in service to others, a dedication to a ministry that requires athletic endurance.
Following Christ means imitating one who came to serve.
When we embrace this notion of faith, the use of slavery is a more palatable metaphor.
Jesus is not endorsing a social order of slave and master. His experience of slavery – servant hood was not the same dehumanizing system that is part of our history, and those in Jesus’ time could readily understand the analogy.
Jesus is honoring the slaves/servants of his time promoting their attitude of dutiful and willing obedience.
Jesus is a self – proclaimed dutiful and willing servant, He invites us to consider ourselves the same.
Discipleship is hard. As Paul says, we must join in suffering for the Gospel.
Rowan Williams offers this in his book “Being Christian”. When we follow Jesus we follow him into the neighborhood of chaos, places where humanity is most at risk, where humanity is most disordered, disfigured and needy.
Christians, he writes, are found in the neighborhood of Jesus – Jesus is found in the neighborhood of human confusion and suffering, defenselessly along side those in need.
How often contemporary policy and culture gets in our way – problems seem insurmountable, we continue to be battered by so much hurt, pain, disregard of God’s people and creation, societal ills, corruption that won’t relent and daily messages of hate.
How often like the disciples in this moment, do we misstep, trust in our own merits, and view our faith as personal fortitude, our own forbearance in the face of difficult circumstances?
How often do we fear moments of doubt, question our own ability to be up to the task of Christian service?
How often do we give in, hang our heads, become immobilized, pray if only we had more faith?
How do we make a difference?
In this Gospel, Jesus isn’t scolding or “throwing shade”, He is speaking words of love and encouragement.
He asks us to consider what faith is for, not how much we have, He asks us to consider how our own spiritual gifts will be used in the service of others.
Are you the prophet who calls out brokenness, the one who advocates for those without voice of their own, the teacher who helps others understand, the healer who brings God’s comfort, the compassionate one who responds to the needs of others, the companion who walks alongside someone in need, the “welcomer” who embraces all despite differences, the prayer warrior who holds others in prayer, the peacemaker who brings God’s mercy and redemptive love where they fail to exist.
This Gospel assures us, collectively we have enough gifts, and we have enough faith.
Step out of the vortex of doubt, hold onto the truth without further reassurance, guard the treasure entrusted to us, trust in God, and follow Jesus into the chaos of humanity.
Miracles will happen.