Sunday, October 02, 2016

Those Troublesome Slave Passages

This Sunday's Gospel reading in many churches is Luke 17:5-10. In it, I see two distinct ideas being conveyed about obedience, 
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 ploughing 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!'"
When wrestling with the quoted passages above, preachers often choose to build their sermons around the theme of faith the size of a mustard seed rather than delving into the humility of obedience to a greater authority.

The slave references are totally at odds with the modern worldview which would rather have us say of ourselves,
"We are not worthless slaves. We are valuable human beings, important in our own right, and submissive to no one." 
The idea of humbling oneself to the point of submissive servitude without demonstrating a rebellious attitude is going to be next to impossible for the progressive preacher to convey to his/her congregation if they have been used to hearing nice, crowd soothing homilies over the years. Pewsitters in today's congregations have also been conditioned by society and the media to think of slaves as inherently rebellious and hateful towards their masters.

In our relationship to the Almighty, Jesus is right to say what he said, because that is where we stand (or kneel), and we need his correction in order to remain humble as we try to serve Him.

I suspect that most Sunday sermons today will focus on the mustard seed, and if slavery is brought up at all, it will be presented in such a historically contextual way that the truth of what Jesus was trying to convey will be lost.

We really are worthless.

We need to admit it.

We need to do what we are commanded by Him to do.

And how are we to know what it is that we are supposed to do?

Where do we turn to find the answer to that question?

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