Readings: Lamentations 1:1-6 and 3:19-26; Luke 17: 5-10
Things happen every day that are simple, ordinary acts of kindness. Sometimes these things happen under extraordinary circumstances and we put them up on a pedestal as if they are amazing. I did a bit of a search on the internet for such stories. I found the story of an Alberta couple, now dubbed the `Alberta Angels`, who stopped for a couple who had a serious motorbike accident. They were praised for the wonderful care they gave to this couple and their continued interest with their recovery afterwards. The couple said, `We didn`t do anything that any other person would have done.`
Another story I came across was that of Beatrix Reyes Ojeda who survived a plane crash in Madrid in 2008. After tying a tourniquet around her badly injured leg, she went about rescuing children from the wreckage before it was engulfed in flames. Speaking to the media after her release from hospital she said, `There were children who had seats on top of them. All I did was pull them out and set them aside so they weren`t trapped. I know people are making much of this, but I did what any person would do in those circumstances.`
And another story of a family whose house caught on fire while the father stepped outside to speak with someone on the phone. He could not get back into the house, but managed to get around the side and climb through his baby`s bedroom window to save his life. He was praised for his quick thinking and courage. His response, `I just did what any dad would do.` Are you seeing a pattern?
I just did what any person would have done. Thankfully we are not subjected to such tragic incidents often in our lifetime. But the reality is, these `heroic` acts happen every day all over the world. And, if we were put in a similar situation, we would probably do similar. The reading from the Gospel today invites us to see acts of faith as ordinary, not extraordinary.
We may hear echoes in these stories of the Good Samaritan; a story that Luke has Jesus telling only a few chapters before today`s reading. In fact, if we look back over the last few chapters it is no wonder that the disciples react in the way they do, asking for Jesus to increase their faith. A few verses before Jesus talks about forgiveness that goes above and beyond. Jesus is making difficult demands of the disciples. How can they possibly live up to them? How can they possibly be a good enough follower?
The only way they can possibly imagine achieving all this is to have more faith. Give us more faith Jesus - then we will be able to do what you ask of us. It seems like a simple request, surely something that Jesus could grant them, perhaps a reward? But Jesus responds in an unexpected way. Why? Because the disciples have misunderstood the nature of faith. And perhaps we fall into this same trap today, looking at people like Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, Martin Luther King Jnr or perhaps the person sitting next to us and saying to ourselves we could never match up to their great faith.
So what does Jesus` talk of mustard seeds and slaves doing what they should do tell us about faith? Firstly, faith is not something that you can quantify. It is not a thing that can be measured or counted or even compared to another person`s. This is such a foreign concept in our Western Society. We are so wrapped up in the achievements of life. Our value in this world is measured by the amounts in our bank accounts, how far up the ladder we have managed to climb and the material investments we own. What is our value if it is not in what we achieve?
And so, if faith is not something you can quantify, any talk of our spiritual lives in these terms is completely pointless. `I am not as holy as that person. I am not as good a Christian as this person. I cannot possibly be like that saint.` All these statements assume that are faith is about what we do, like a checklist. But faith, as presented here by Jesus, is more about who we are. This is where our value is found - in being the person God created us to be.
Another aspect that Jesus is highlighting by using the example of slaves and their relationship with their master, is faith is highly relational. It is about relationship with God and with each other. It isn`t something you do alone. When you live in a trusting relationship with God you respond to God`s will instinctually, seeking neither reward nor praise, but simply doing what a child of God would do.
And as much as faith is intimately connected to our relationship with God, so too it is intertwined with our relationship with others. Our world does not need prized achievements or measures of individual success, but more than ever needs each of us to hold an assertion of our common humanity. It is the smiles in the park, the wave of acknowledgment or calling someone by name. Faith levels the playing field, in such a way that successful or not I can call all people brother or sister.
Faith is not to be seen as something outside our reach, kept only for those who are particularly holy or devout. It is for each of us in the everyday of our lives. Somehow an act of faith seems like it should be extravagant or costly to be of merit to God and to others. But here Jesus is saying, `You may think your acts are as insignificant as a mustard seed, but they are important acts of faith.` Just as in Jesus` times servants would not sit at the table until their work was finished and would not necessarily be thanked for the work they were expected to do, so too is faith. It is simply the willingness to do what needs to be done. It is not some scarce resource that needs to be saved, spent, added to or counted. And it isn`t always heroic, in fact it usually isn`t. Instead it is simply and humbly doing what needs to be done, big or small, great or mundane, just because it needs doing.
In some ways, this is good news for us. It takes the emphasis away from our doing and encourages us to be in God. But, as many of you know too well, when we truly rest in the presence of God it rarely results in a comfortable, safe way of living. So, in another way, this message holds a huge challenge. It may be that God challenges us in ways that seem impossible - to uproot the mulberry tree and plant it in the sea. Being with God does not mean inaction or a sedentary faith. All of our actions, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant matter. But, as a child of God, all that is needed is a mere speck of faith in order to do what we must do.