This coming Sunday’s gospel reading – Luke 17:5-7 – talks of tiny amounts of faith, faith as small as a seed, which can accomplish so much in the world. A little context is helpful here. The verse before talks of the necessity to forgive someone, and to keep on forgiving them. On hearing this, the disciples ask for their faith to be increased.
It is a hard task to forgive, and maybe the disciples think they need vast amounts of faith to be able to do it. These verses are difficult to understand, to see how they hang together. Perhaps Jesus’ answer suggests that, if they have any faith at all, it is enough. His story of the servant and the master may follow on from the same train of thought. The work of forgiveness is an everyday necessity for the follower of Jesus. Everyday work does not require special equipment, or a special reward. Perhaps, if we are thinking about our life of faith in terms of reward, of payment, we have misunderstood something.
The Lord’s Prayer (11:1-4), has already been recorded in Luke – forgive us, as we forgive. There, we begin to see how the flow of forgiveness works. We need forgiveness, and we need to forgive. Our own forgiveness is not a static thing, a prize to be acquired. Neither is forgiveness conditional, but, I believe, Jesus describes a process. This is how it works – as a flow of forgiveness. As we join in, seeking to pass on what we receive, we become more like Jesus. He forgives, and so we are freed to. We find the courage and humility to ask for, and give, forgiveness. We both receive and give. It is hard work for us, but it is the work we must do every day – like the work of the servants.
Seeds have tremendous capacity coiled within them. Small as they are, they contain all that is needed for a new plant to grow. It is all there, already. Jesus often uses seeds to talk about the life of the kingdom. They seem a perfect illustration. So small, so unassuming, they need to fall to the ground and break. Then we see that they are in fact breaking open, bursting with new life, with a shoot and a root and a leaf ready to unfurl.
In The Bible Retold , I have the slightly longer version of the mustard seed from Matthew’s gospel.
“How shall I tell you about God’s kingdom? It’s like a man who digs down in the earth and plants a tiny mustard seed – it’s so small that a puff of wind could take it out of the palm of his hand. Yet it grows and spreads into the largest plant in the garden, with branches where the birds can come and shelter.”
And here are some extracts from Prayers and Verses to help us pray through this gospel reading. We think of the smallness of the seeds of kingdom life in our own lives and the life of our community, and of the patience needed to wait and tend their growth. We remember the seeds with gratitude, aware of their potential. We think too of our own need for forgiveness, and remember it before we condemn another.
Help me to be patient as I wait for your kingdom
and your righteousness:
as patient as a farmer who trusts that the rains
will come in their season,
and that the land will produce its harvest.
Keep my hopes high.
Help me to pray to you and to praise you.
The Lord is good to me,
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me the things I need,
The sun, the rain, the appleseed.
The Lord is good to me.
Attributed to John Chapman, planter of orchards 1774-1845
I told God everything:
I told God about all the wrong things I had done.
I gave up trying to pretend.
I gave up trying to hide.
I knew that the only thing to do was
And God forgave me.
Based on Psalm 32:5
We remember also that there are no small things in the kingdom. Apparently small things have tremendous power. They are enough. What small things can you do today?
We can do no great things,
Only small things with great love.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta 1910-1997
“Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds you plant.” Robert Louis Stevenson
With thanks to my homegroup – a small group who meet and pray and read gospels and sometimes cry and always laugh together. Sowers of seeds, all.