The disciples, amazed by Jesus’ demands, plead, “Increase our faith!” Jesus then responds with a parable that, at first glance, seems rather harsh. A servant doesn’t receive special praise for obedience. What kind of response is this? Is Jesus telling the disciples: “Shut up and do what you’re told”?
No. First of all, we notice that Jesus begins by saying, “Suppose one of you has a servant.” Jesus begins, in other words, not by describing how God relates to us but by describing how human masters and human servants normally relate to one another. We wouldn’t imagine a master feeling indebted to a servant simply because the servant did his job. An employee who does the job she was hired to do wouldn’t ordinarily think, OK, I did it—but my boss really owes me one now!
We don’t relate this way to those who have authority over us on a human level. How much less would we relate to God in this way? Serving and forgiving others is hard (as the disciples recognize). But the demands of the Christian way do not justify going through life feeling exasperated, as if we have been enormously inconvenienced by God. No service we render, no obedience we offer ever puts God in our debt. That is not the character of our relationship to God.
We can state the same point positively: Even when faced with the demands of the Christian life, our attitude toward God is one of gratitude. Among the various tears we shed, we mingle them all with our tears of gratitude.
We thank you, Lord, for your goodness to us. We thank you that we always have cause for gratitude and that you call us not only to the way of the cross but to the joy of the resurrection. Amen.
Moving from the sadness of Lamentations 1 to the thanksgiving prayer of 2 Timothy 1 is to move from total darkness to “the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abol- ished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Lamentations 1 and Psalm 137 are both painful laments from the vantage point of the exile. Both laments drama- tize the expression of honest pain, which offers to God anger as well as grief. In contrast, the New Testament texts speak of faith. The writer of the epistle delights in Timothy’s heritage of faith, nurtured by mother and grandmother and empowered by divine gifts of love and self-discipline. But it is a heritage that must put itself at risk for the sake of the gospel and not inch in the face of inevitable suffering. The disciples ask Jesus for “more” faith, only to be told that faith cannot be quanti ed.
• Read Lamentations 1:1-6. When have your tears of regret washed away illusion? How do you begin again after repen- tance?
• Read Psalm 137. Recall a time when someone angered you. How did you deal with your anger?
• Read 2 Timothy 1:1-14. The author states that when we shed tears for another person we “testify to our profound connect- edness to others.” When in your life have you shed tears for the suffering of another?
• Read Luke 17:5-10. How do you experience gratitude even as you live with the demands of the Christian life?
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This season, Whitney R. Simpson has given us the gift we must open: a clear, accessible invitation to connect with the divine spark that is within us. This is the best present: being present for Jesus’ birth, God made human.”
Learn more about our newest Advent resource, Fully Human, Fully Divine here.