It’s not the size of our faith that matters, but the awesome power of the object of our faith, namely, our Father in heaven. The mountain will move because of the power of God -- not because of the depth or complexity of our belief. Along with a simple faith, our expectations should also be simple, especially regarding our reward for faithful service. God will exalt those who have first humbled themselves.
The small auditorium in the Fine Arts Center began to fill up with people. Shortly, there would be about 100 friends and family settled in their chairs and preparing to hear a few elementary students put on a piano recital. These kids would not be plinking out “Twinkle, Twinkle” and “Chopstocks.” Many of them would be playing complex pieces composed by Mozart, Beethoven, and Bach.
Their teacher was especially concerned about one of her students who had A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder). This 9-year-old was an excellent pianist, but no one was quite sure how she was going to do in front of a crowd. This teacher had done a great job “desensitizing” her students, in the most positive sense, to the pressures of performing in front of an audience. When one of her students was asked how he felt on the stage, he replied, “I think I play better when there are a lot of people watching me.”
That’s a gift.
But this A.D.D. student had just joined the studio, so the teacher wasn’t sure how she was going to do. When it was her turn, she came out onto the stage, gave a polite bow, and sat down in front of the magnificent Steinway grand piano. The lid had been raised so that the sound would carry across the room. She began to play her piece with grace and ease.
And then, as she was playing, she noticed the hammers hitting the strings inside the piano, something she had never seen before. She had always played on an upright piano were the mechanical intricacies of the music she created remained hidden.
Soon the audience realized that this attention-challenged child was completely focused what was happening inside and not on the keyboard. As she continued to play, she slowly rose from the piano bench to get a better view of the mechanics behind the music. In a matter of a few seconds, she was standing at the keyboard and leaning over the piano, oblivious to the audience in front of her.
But she did not miss a single note in the entire piece of music. In fact, her performance was technically perfect and full of emotional expression. The music was so engrained in her fingers and in her heart that it just came out of her automatically. Her faith in the ability God had given her was simple. And since the music was taking care of itself, she could focus on other things that interested her.
Hearing this story aids, us in understanding why Jesus often pointed to the unaffected ways children think and behave to help adults understand the simplicity of faith and expectation. Today’s passage talks about how we often make things more complex than they need to be -- and how our expectations often follow suit. If there’s a number-one cause to bitterness and frustration in life, it’s unmet expectations -- ones that were probably not too realistic in the first place.
In the context of today’s passage, Jesus had just told the disciples that he expected them to forgive those who sinned against them, each time they sinned and repented.
The logical implication of this teaching is reflected in this quote by C. S. Lewis:
To forgive the incessant provocation of daily life - to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son -- how can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God’s mercy for ourselves. There are no hint of exceptions and God means what he says.1
What a hard thing! Sometimes it seems as if God is asking us to do the impossible. No wonder the disciples registered shock and dismay over such a teaching. They cried out to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” as if to say, “How could you possibly expect us to do this overwhelmingly difficult thing -- it would take the supersize faith of a spiritual mega-giant to accomplish such a task!”
Calmly, Jesus responds that to be effective in the kingdom of God has nothing to do with the size of one’s faith. What matters is the object of our faith -- namely, our Father in heaven. According to Jesus, your faith only needs to be the size of a mustard seed.
Do you believe that God exists? Do acknowledge that Jesus is Lord? If so, you have the faith you need. Simply move forward (in that simple expression of faith) and go do the most responsible thing. If it’s being kind and compassionate to your spouse -- just do it. If it’s disciplining a child in love -- just do it. If it’s forgiving a long-standing grudge caused by a blame-shifting offender who will never acknowledge responsibility for what he or she did -- just do it. Don’t wait until you feel spiritual enough. The mountain will move because of the power of God -- not because of the depth of your belief.
Jesus next asked a rhetorical question about what his followers should anticipate receiving from God. Recall that Jesus sometimes used parables involving disappointed persons who thought they had more coming than they received. Think of the older son in the story of the prodigal son, who complained that even though he was unfailingly loyal and obedient, the father never through a party for him. Consider the parable of the generous vineyard owner who gave just as much to the laborers he hired later in the day as he did to those who worked for him all day. The full-day workers complained because they assumed they would get more than they agreed to because they fell into a comparison trap and allowed their expectations to be shaped accordingly.
Along that same line, Jesus now made the same point using his rhetorical question. Jesus asked his disciples to consider what a common servant would expect from a master who had hired him to take care of things. Is it reasonable for such a servant to fulfill only part of his duties while the master does the rest? And after only doing part of his job, should the servant expect to be thanked by a master, and then be excused from doing the rest?
The obvious answer is no.
Instead, the servant should take the humble attitude of a rescued soul who is merely fulfilling what is reasonably expected of him.
So, what should his followers anticipate receiving from God?
In a nutshell: nothing. Not even a thank you.
There’s a true story of an older couple visiting an enormously successful church in Los Angeles. Between services, they peeked into one of the Sunday school classrooms and saw the pastor’s wife picking up used coffee cups from the table and even the floor, by herself, before the next class came in. Immediately, the couple decided that this was going to be their church home because there was clearly no pretense about “rank and privilege” in this house of worship. People served God because it was the right thing to do, not because they were assured of a pat on the back, or a plaque on the door.
Similarly, there’s a small church in Georgia that can’t afford a janitor, and so everyone pitches in when it comes to cutting the grass and cleaning the bathrooms -- even former president and Nobel Laureate Jimmy Carter (and his wife, former First Lady Rosalynn). For these folks, servanthood knows no privilege.
Now is it true that there will be no rewards for faithful service to God? Clearly not. Scripture is replete with indications that the faithful will be rewarded for using their spiritual gifts appropriately. Probably the most fulfilling affirmation will be hearing the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Surprisingly, earlier in the gospel of Luke, Jesus describes a master doing the opposite of what the master in Jesus’ rhetorical question expects.2 Those who are ready when the master returns will be waited on by the master -- as unexpected as that may sound.
What Jesus is telling us in the passage before us, however, is that we should take a humble attitude toward our service, so that in the end, we’re not standing in front of God with our hand out. Instead, we are to willingly taking “the humblest seat at the banquet” and be asked to move up to a better place, rather than grabbing the best seat for yourself and being asked to step down.
Let’s keep our faith and expectations simple. Let us no longer depend on the depth of our belief, but rather in the depth of the One we believe in. And let us do our duty without the expectation of reward, so that we may be rewarded richly when the Master returns.
1 “On Forgiveness,” The Weight of Glory.
2 Luke 14:7-11