Scripture: Luke 17:5–10
Have you ever interacted with someone via text or a messenger app and what you understood was something completely different than what they were trying to communicate?
Or what they understood was very different than what you were trying to say?
This happens because tone, inflection, or body language are integral parts of human communication. Certainly, emoji’s help but without the nuance of tone, facial expressions, or body language, it can be difficult to really understand what is being said.
With that in mind, did you know there are about 450 different English translations of the Bible.
All those different versions come because there are disagreements about how to translate parts of the text, or translators are trying to present the text in a different way, or have a certain bias they’re trying to impose on the text.
But in every printed translation I’ve seen – inflection, tone and body language are missing.
In other words, there’s no translation of the Bible that says things like, “Jesus rolled his eyes and sighed deeply before responding,” or “, he said in a low, husky voice.”
You know, things that help us better understand the dialogue.
Because it’s one thing to read the words; but it would have added layers of understanding and meaning to what we read if we could only hear the tone and inflection.
This is particularly true when Jesus speaks, because I’m fairly sure Jesus was rarely, if ever, the sweet, soft, gentle man with flowing blond hair and warm blue eyes who spoke kindly and calmly all the time.
I’d bet Jesus was much more blunt, and very direct in the way he spoke. And I think that is exactly what’s happening in today’s passage where Jesus and the disciples are talking about faith.
Let’s listen to our text Luke 17:5-10
To understand this interchange, we need to look at two things.
The first is the context of the entire gospel of Luke, where it’s always the outcasts—the most unlikely ones—who have the most faith. You’d think it would be the disciples, the people who followed Jesus around all the time and listening to him 24/7.
But in Luke’s gospel the people Jesus affirms for their faith are people like prostitutes, beggars, Samaritans, sick people, Roman soldiers.
It’s always the people on the outside—not the members of the club or the ones who have the most education or the people with the titles in front of their names.
A big theme in Luke’s gospel is finding faith in unlikely places.
The second thing we need to know to get the meaning of this text is its immediate context.
In the beginning of chapter 17 he tells the disciples that a life of following him is going to involve forgiving people who don’t deserve to be forgiven, watching out for others before yourself, and showing care not to mislead people or misuse your positions of authority.
It sounds like Jesus is just going down his list of what it means to be a faithful disciple.
And the disciples, sitting there all around him, started glancing sideways at each other and looking at each other questioningly, shrugging their shoulders like, “What the heck?”
Then they interrupt Jesus and say something like: “Whoa, slow down. Seriously? Have you met us? We’re not holy enough for that! You’re going to have to give us superpowers or something if you expect us to live up to those standards!”
See how different that sounds than: “The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
We’ll call this the New Revised Snarky Version of the Bible.
Now, remember that the people in Luke’s gospel who get it—who have the faith that Jesus is describing here—are NOT the disciples. The people who get it are outcasts and outsiders.
Of all people, the disciples should have understood.
But, yet again, they miss the boat and now it’s Jesus’ turn to respond with what I imagine was some strong inflection we don’t get from reading just the words.
I think I’m going to go with frustration, perhaps tinged with a bit of sarcasm.
“How many times do I have to tell you? Being faithful disciples is not about acquiring superhuman powers. It’s not about being super holy, or about achieving nirvana.
In fact, you could have faith the size of a mustard seed—a really, really tiny bit and still do really big, things. Saying that you need more faith before you can be my disciples is a cop out, true and simple.”
Have you ever seen a mustard seed? It’s really little.
Now this metaphor would have been difficult for the disciples to hear because they were Jewish and from the time, they were little they were told that they were God’s people and that they were to have faith like a cedar tree – a huge, strong, majestic tree.
And that’s who the disciples wanted to be, too. They just couldn’t see it from where they sat. The things Jesus was asking them to do were too unbelievable, too hard.
They could never be that faithful. And, by the way, neither could I.
Which is why I hope they – and us - pay close attention to what Jesus said next, because it seems unrelated but it actually couldn’t be more related.
Being a disciple, Jesus was trying to communicate, isn’t about collecting a huge amount of faith, or being super holier than everybody around you.
It's about just doing the next right thing.
Jesus talked about slaves (servants), a common part of society in Jesus’ day, not spending their time imagining that they were not slaves, but instead just doing their jobs.
They came in from working in the fields and dinner needed to be served. So, they washed their hands and served dinner. And when it was over, they cleaned up. And the next day they got up and started again. They did their jobs.
Now, we could take issue with Jesus talking about slaves like this—he should have been saying that slavery was wrong! Yes, we could. But then we’d be missing the point.
Jesus was answering the disciple’s complaint that they didn’t have enough faith to do what was being asked of them by saying: having faith is being faithful. That’s all.
Whatever is next, whatever is right in front of you, whatever you have to do, do it. That’s what being a faithful disciple means.
There are times in our lives where anxiety and fear cause us to wonder if we have enough faith to keep living lives of giving and gratitude, of discipleship and commitment.
Feeling vulnerable and scared makes us instinctively close in on ourselves, pull back, feel sure that we don’t have the faith it’s going to take to do the big, scary stuff: to be super Christians, and love everybody, and fix all the problems of the world.
“Increase my faith!,” I want to shake my fist at the sky and yell. I can’t do it!
Jesus would say (in a soft, gentle voice, as he brushed his blond hair out of his blue eyes):
When it seems too hard, do it anyway.
When you’re scared, keep going.
When there’s not enough light to see the path ahead, step forward into whatever little light you can see.
Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t take magical powers; it’s not for people way more spiritual than you or I are.
It’s for people like you and me, people who are scared, unsure, fear-filled doubters who somehow find the guts to just keep doing the right thing, over and over, one little faithful step at a time.