I was playing a violin piece for my teacher one day and I kept hitting the wrong string. I stopped and told Todd that I must need more rosin. He laughed and gently said, “It sounds good to me. I’m always ready to find a reason it is not me.” Rather than admit my bow control was not what it should be, I blamed it on the bow itself. We do that, don’t we. We make excuses for our short comings. Todd’s response gave me two options. Continue to look for excuses, or practice more and get better.
Jesus has been talking about the challenges of walking what early Christians called “the Way”, walking in Jesus’ footsteps. After lamenting over Jerusalem, Luke has Jesus give parable after parable that talks about making right choices: humbling oneself at dinner parties by not taking the seat of honor of your own accord, and by inviting those who truly need physical and social nourishment rather than inviting those you want to impress so they will gift you in some manner as recompense; counting the cost of your choices, especially the choice to become a disciple of Christ, knowing it may mean losing all you hold dear, possessions, family, perhaps even your own life; rejoicing when the lost are found and reunited with the body of Christ; realizing that honesty counts even in the small things because those who are dishonest in small things are usually dishonest when it really matters; the danger of twisting the law to suit one’s own desires; the reality that we have everything we already need in the scriptures to save us, but that unless we show mercy in this world, we may be surprised when we are on the wrong side of a closed gate in the next, and finally the knowledge that we are our brother’s keeper. We endanger our own souls when we cause others to stumble and when someone sins against us, we are called upon to forgive them over and over.
It is understandable that the twelve feel overwhelmed. These things that Jesus has shared with them are much harder to do than to wash your hands in the proper manner, wear the proper clothing, say the right prayers, offer the right sacrifices. These things all require that your heart is in the right place with respect to God, to our neighbor, and our stuff.
Increase our faith! I need more rosin on my bow!
I suspect Jesus’ expression was similar to Todd’s when I tried to blame my errors on my bow rather than my lack of skill and the need to practice more. When Jesus says “if you had faith the size of a mustard seed”, I don’t think he is telling them they are without faith. I think he his telling them that the faith they have is enough, they just need to practice using it.
The other thing that Jesus points out speaks to our motivation. Todd often told me to relax and enjoy the music I was making for the sake of the music, not to check off that I had completed another piece, or so I could play in a recital, or try to win some prize. When Jesus tells them that they should not expect some reward for having done the right thing he is not suggesting that slavery was a good thing or that it is ok for employers to take advantage of their employees. He is saying imitate him because it is the right thing to do and that life is its own reward.
Some of you have been in conversations about the book of Job this week. One of the questions that the author of Job explores is the possibility of devotion to God just because God is God and not because of any anticipated reward.
When Job opens, Satan “The Adversary” or perhaps we can think of him as the Prosecutor and/ or witness for the prosecution challenges God’s faith in Job who God describes as “a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.” (Job 1:8) Satan claims that Job is faithful to God only because God has protected him and blessed him with an easy and prosperous life. God trusts Job to remain faithful even when his incentives are taken away. Do we still trust God when things are not going as we had hoped? Job hangs in there pretty well. After losing all his worldly possessions Job’s response is “the Lord gave and the Lord has taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) When he loses his health and his wife suggests he should curse God and die, his heart falters, but he wills himself to remain faithful and we are told “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” (Job 2:10)
Job then endures the consolation of his friends who cannot fathom that Job is not hiding some horrible sin that is the cause of his calamity. Job’s response is one that we often quote at funerals and it is one of the few mentions of “resurrection” in the Old Testament. Job while still insisting that he is innocent declares, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.” (Job 19:27-27a). Job retains his faith in God’s ultimate justice, but he also defends himself as not deserving what feels like punishment.
Job receives another visitor who cautions him against self-righteousness. Job at this point “opens his mouth in empty talk, he multiplies words without knowledge.” (Job 35:16). How often did the disciples multiply words without knowledge? “ Give us more faith!” Worrying about a shortage of bread after witnessing Jesus multiply the loaves and fishes. Peter forbidding Jesus to return to Jerusalem and face the cross. No wonder he sometimes grew impatient. How often do we multiply words without knowledge seeking to justify our actions or motives to others or to God.
A lot of people are uncomfortable with the ending of Job. God reminds Job that God is God and Job is not. Job seems ok with this answer and repents of his arrogance. Job’s friends are reprimanded for their ignorance, but get off pretty lightly, and Job has his health and possessions restored. Job is big picture story. We are not intended to focus on why God would make a wager with Satan or what about Job’s first family that died. We are intended to focus on Job’s response to suffering that he feels he does not deserve and does not understand and his relationship with God throughout the story. Life is not always fair, at least not life as far as we know it according to our standards, but God stands beyond our time and we are called to trust that God has things under control even when we don’t understand why we or others are suffering.
The stories in the scriptures are intended to make us think about our motives and our responses. They are intended to show us that God is merciful and forever offering second, third, fourth and more chances. They are intended to give us hope in the resurrection, but they cannot answer the why for every difficult situation. For that we must depend upon faith.
Increase our faith! Jesus said, you already have all you need, you just need to practice using it.