Track 2: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4, Psalm 37:1-10, 2 Timothy 1:1-14, Luke 17:5-10
“Just as a slave’s duty is to do as ordered, so a disciple’s duty is to forgive, an act that in Luke’s understanding requires faith.” Oliver Larry Yarborough
In this morning’s gospel reading the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith and Jesus replies with the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the worthless slaves. Jesus is saying that we do not need the great and powerful faith of Saint James or Saint Paul to do the work of God, that the faith we have is sufficient to do what we are called to do. Having the apostles ask for more faith is an acknowledgement that faith is not something we do, but something that is given to us by God. First Corinthians Twelve tells us that Faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit. Ephesians two Verses eight and nine read, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the results of works, so that no one may boast.”
Not included in today’s passage is the context of why the apostles asked for an increase in faith. The previous four verses read,
“Jesus said to his disciples, “Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2 It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3 Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. 4 And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” - Luke 17:1-4
No wonder the apostles have asked for an increase in faith. Aren’t we always at risk of misleading someone or placing a barrier in their path? We expect people to be like us, to fit in with our liberal or conservative social stance, to fit in with our economic status, to dress a certain way, to wear their hair a certain way, to look like us, not to make us feel uncomfortable; so often it is not about welcoming the other and making them comfortable, affirming who they are, but about what makes us comfortable and we risk being thrown into the sea. Are we able to believe that, just as we are, is who God would have us be, others are also who God would have them be? That just as God has made some to be white Caucasian females, God has made others to be Hispanic or transgender or Jewish or rich or male or living with Spina Bifida, can we forgive them for the circumstances of their birth, for being different from us.
We are very good at pointing out others’ errors, sins and differences. Can we forgive them when they repent? Can we forgive them for taking another drink or for smoking or weeping when life becomes unbearable? Can we forgive them when they take advantage of affirmative action policies that help improve opportunities for groups that have been historically excluded or under represented such as women and minorities. Can we forgive ourselves when we cannot seem to do enough to change the world? Can we believe that we can make a difference, that hosting one community supper does help us move closer to the Kingdom of Heaven, that giving to the Episcopal Relief and Development Fund does make a difference in the lives of others! Trust God; trust that we can make a difference. To forgive ourselves and to forgive others takes faith, no wonder the apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith.
In the second parable of the worthless slaves, the hearers of Luke’s gospel would have understood immediately. Of course the slaves coming in from the fields would be expected to make supper, serve their master and then finally have a chance to eat themselves. This was just how it was; you were not thanked for doing your job, you obeyed your master. It is easy for us to ignore this passage as irrelevant to us, after all slavery was abolished in the 19th century. Or we might wonder, why didn’t Jesus or the author of Luke’s Gospel speak out against slavery? A question I have is, has slavery really ended or do we just call it by another name. Slavery might include people captured as victims of war or people who cannot pay back their debts or people kidnapped and enslaved against their wills. Today we still have slavery in the form of human trafficking, the illegal movement of people for the purposes of forced labor, slavery, domestic servitude such as cooking and cleaning, commercial sexual exploitation and even organ removal. Trafficking in persons is a serious crime and a grave violation of human rights. Every year, thousands of men, women and children fall into the hands of traffickers, in their own countries and abroad. Almost every country in the world is affected by trafficking, whether as a country of origin, transit or destination for victims.
Around the country, and right here in Michigan, men, women and children are forced into prostitution, domestic servitude and other labor for little or no pay. Human trafficking is a modern-day form of slavery and it is the second-largest and fastest-growing criminal industry in the world. Victims of human trafficking are in bondage through force, fraud or coercion, for the purpose of sex or labor exploitation. Our children are especially at risk - 40% of human trafficking cases involve the sexual exploitation of a child with an average age of 11 to 14. Human Trafficking victims are vulnerable. Some risk factors are: poverty, immigration status, unemployment, desperation, family backgrounds strife with violence, abuse, conflict, homelessness, and a need to be loved. Some sources say that Michigan ranks in the top five perhaps even the top two states for Human Trafficking, right here in Michigan. <pause> The U.S. Constitution's 13th Amendment guarantees that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude shall exist, but it does.
Human trafficking is a $32 billion dollar global industry, 32 billion dollars. And therein lies the root of the problem, greed, exploitation of the young and the vulnerable for personal gain, for money! Isn’t that what economic injustice is all about, the exploitation of another for personal gain.
Slavery still exists today. So what does that have to do with today’s gospel? Is Jesus saying that the victims of Human Trafficking should just accept their bondage and do what their pimps tell them? NO, but it is a call for the church to stand up for the rights of the victims of human trafficking, to support laws opposing human trafficking, to refuse to be a part of human trafficking and to fight for aid to support the victims. In our baptism we joined the church and the family of God. We also became God’s servants fighting for the Kingdom of Heaven fighting against all forms of injustice including human trafficking and economic injustice. Today’s gospel is for Jesus’ disciples, we are to obey God and to do God’s will striving for respect and justice for all people and this, like forgiveness, calls for faith. And so we add our voices to those of the apostles and say to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Amen.
Oliver Larry Yarborough, ”Luke 17:5-10, Exegetical Perspective”, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, Season after Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ), Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky, 2010, 141-145.
Retrieved from http://www.michigan.gov/ag/0,4534,7-164-60857---,00.html, 10/01/2016.