Habakkuk 1,2-3,2,2-4 + Psalm 95 + 2 Timothy 1, 6-8, 13-14 + Luke 17, 5-10
My family lived in a home with a mulberry tree in the front yard. The tree was planted between the sidewalk and the street: a narrow strip about four feet wide. The developer, who obviously knew nothing about mulberry trees, probably planted them because they grow fast. In no time at all the street was a tunnel through mulberry branches; and by that time no one could not walk safely down the sidewalk because the roots of the trees pushed the concrete up and away from the street. It was a mess. As the one who had to mow the grass in that yard, I knew that the roots were everywhere right on the surface, and they were huge. So every time I hear this image, I get the point. That tree isn’t going anywhere which is probably why it was once so popular in Oklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain! That tree is still there after 40 years, and the concrete sidewalk as been moved three times. It would not surprise me to hear that the house was now even a few inches higher. Mulberries don’t move. They do the moving. There is a lot to think about then with this two verse saying for apostles and for an apostolic people.
This story is a wonderful example of the extreme exaggerations common to that culture at the time. “Pluck out your eye if it is a cause for sin.” is a perfect example of this kind of story telling. In this style of exaggeration then, Jesus proposes the impossible: moving a mulberry tree! His point is that even the smallest amount of faith can make the impossible possible because, and this is the point, faith relies on God. Faith does not rely on human resources alone. God could move that tree, but no man alone could move it. When we finally get that right, finally understand that faith is about relying on God, not about what we can do, then all this makes sense. Yet our world and our times think that everything has to be big and powerful. “That is the way to get things done” thinks this world. Jesus suggests otherwise. Little faith, mustard seed faith, is all that is necessary. We don’t need a lot, we don’t need big faith. We just need enough to rely upon God. That is all.
Then comes a second and much more complex story. At first, we are almost conditioned to wonder about this master who seems so demanding and unreasonable toward a servant who has worked all day. However, the master is not the point or focus of the story. Forget him. This is a story told to disciples, not to masters. The apostles ask for increased faith,. There we go again: thinking that it takes a lot, or big faith, but the response of Jesus is to propose the attitude of a “servant.” It might even help to know that the word Luke uses in Greek is the word for “slave”; a much more significant word than “servant.”
What is remarkable about this servant is that he worked all day in the field, and then assumes household duties at night preparing and serving a meal. All of this without overtime pay or any particular recognition or affirmation. For disciples who are looking for glory and fame, a particular place or seat at the banquet of eternal life, this message is important. For us who sometimes slip into thinking that we can earn our way into grace, or that things we do will provide us special recognition by God now or on judgement day, there is a very powerful and important point to this story. It seems like we are always looking for extra credit like we may we have done in school. Service, no matter how well performed is not going to get us somewhere. It will simply be evidence that we know who we are and what is expected of us as servants. It doesn’t sound too exciting. It won’t draw a lot of attention. It never seems to bring any particular rewards. It’s just a little thing, doing what is expected, but it is what is asked of us. It is the foundation of greatness. Do well with little things, and more will be given.
This is a very real and practical message to young people and old people, to students, to mothers and fathers to teachers and all of us. Learn how to do the little things well. Don’t worry about winning awards for doing what you do because of who you are. Little things matter, and little things done well with a little faith will with the help of God have great consequences.