Thursday, October 10, 2019
A Reflection on Luke 17:5-10, N.A.B.
By: Larry T. Smith
Saying of Faith. 5And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” 6The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to [this] mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.
Attitude of a Servant. 7“Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? 8Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? 9Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? 10So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
If we pair this Scripture passage up with the story of the Rich Man in Mark 10:17-22 we might draw out some of its the meaning.
The Rich Man. 17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 18Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’” 20He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22At that statement his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.
In the story of the Rich Man (verse 21), Jesus looked at the rich man and loved him because he had lived his entire life according to Mosaic Law as taught by the Pharisees and Scribes. And when he said, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the [poor] and you will have treasure in heaven, then come follow me” Jesus was, with great love, offering the rich man a gift of incalculable worth, the gift of faith, a life of contentment filled with love of the Father rather than mindless compliance with the legalism of Pharisaic Mosaic Law. And, for an instant the rich man probably considered Jesus’ offer. Should he remain a man of the Law, the Law given to his ancestors by Moses, or should he become a man of faith, give everything away, and follow this popular, charismatic teacher? It was too much to ask! People would think him insane! Why, he would not only lose his standing in the community but his identity as well! Crestfallen, he declined Jesus’ gift of faith and returned to living according to the Law of Moses. Even so, Jesus still loved him.
Unlike the rich man, the apostles had left all of their possessions and families to follow Jesus; their old identities were left behind; they were on the path of faith. So, when they asked Jesus to increase their faith (Luke 17:5), he first explained the power of faith to them, then reminded them that settling into the monotony of compliance with Mosaic Law, as taught by the Pharisees and Scribes, does not please the Father, whereas love of the Father and faith in Him does.
God’s displeasure at hollow ritual and sacrifice was strongly expressed in the prophetic writings of Isaiah (1:11-1), Jeremiah (6:20, 7:21-23), Amos (5:21-25), and Hosea (6:6, 8:4). And St. Paul expressed it well in the Letter to the Hebrews:
8First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in.” These are offered according to the law. 9Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.” He takes away the first to establish the second. 10By this “will,” we have been consecrated through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.—Hebrews 10:8-10
How does all of this apply to us in our modern world? Is there a meaningful lesson here that I might put to use in my daily life? If we have open minds, we might learn a powerful lesson from Sufi mystics.
Sufism, is the mystical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. The following Sufi tradition about Jesus might surprise many Christians:
IMAM EL-GHAZALI relates a tradition from the life of Jesus, son of Mary. Jesus one day saw some people sitting miserably on a wall, by the roadside. He asked: “What is your affliction?’” They said: “We have become like this through our fear of hell.”
He went on his way, and saw a number of people grouped disconsolately in various postures by the wayside. He said: “What is your affliction?” They said: “Desire for Paradise has made us like this.”
He went on his way, until he came to a third group of people. They looked like people who had endured much, but their faces shone with joy. Jesus asked them: “What has made you like this?”
They answered: “The Spirit of Truth. We have seen Reality, and this has made us oblivious of lesser goals.”
Jesus said: “These are the people who attain. On the Day of Accounting these are they who will be in the Presence of God.”
Muslim Sufi mystics used this tale about Jesus to make a powerful point. And while there isn’t a Scriptural basis for the story, it does contain a compelling message, especially with a Christian outlook.
Do we attend Sunday services just because our Church requires it and we don’t want to go to hell? Or is it because we want to go to heaven? If these are the only reasons we have for attending Sunday services, we have a lot in common with the rich man because we are merely habitually complying with the legalism of Church rules. And the Lord still loves us, as he did the rich man. On the other hand, if we attend Sunday services because we love the Lord, our faces, as described in the Sufi tale, will shine with joy. Some of our Saints loved the Lord so deeply that their faces radiated joy.
There is a stage in spiritual development where we no longer care about hell or heaven but only long to be with our beloved Lord while we are on earth, and eventually in the afterlife. All Holy Scripture points us in this direction; this is what we should aspire to.