Our Humility from God
Text. Luke 17:5-10
The disciples ask for more faith. Jesus tells them a parable about a slave serving the master. The story is about humility
Introduction – A question from a workmate
A few years ago at work a few of us with gathered in the office having a tea-time chat about pay and pay rises. One of my colleagues asked
– Why should we expect a pay rise or bonus for doing our job? We’re doing what we should do so why expect any extra for doing it?
My colleague is not a Christian, but without realising it he was asking a question related to the Christian virtue of humility. There is so much in society that assumes that some people are worth more than others, or more worthy or unworthy than others to have particular things. We live in a very competitive world and people like to be appreciated and expect rewards if they do well. People compete for recognition or promotion and higher salaries or other material rewards or status. It can become unsettling or hurtful if we don’t get what we want or expect in our comparisons to other people. Humility challenges assumptions about rewards and status and worth and is in fact at the centre of today’s gospel reading.
Two parts to the story
There are two parts to the reading that is about faith but leading onto a story about humility. The two are related.
Firstly – “Increase our faith”
The passage opens with the disciples request “Lord increase our faith”.
It is said with some urgency, but why have they asked it? In fact there is a bit missing and we have to go back a few verses before (1-5). Jesus has been talking about brothers and sisters of faith who be a stumbling block to each other.
They may be hurt by it but must forgive, and do so seven times a day if necessary.
“if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you
.The disciples think this demand to be so forgiving over and over again is just to much and will demand a lot of faith. Hence their request to be shown how to get faith big enough to keep on forgiving. So Jesus replies that faith the size of mustard seed can uproot a tree with big roots. They only need a little faith to what may seem extraordinary, because it’s not about how much faith they have or think they need, it is about the Infinite God who is on their side and equips them to do the seemingly difficult thing of perpetual forgiveness.
What they really need is the humility that accepts they can’t do it but God can enable them to do so. The real faith is the little faith they can have in God who is some much greater than they are, and who is their Lord and constant friend, who Himself will never let them down. Their problem of “faith” is really a problem of needing a greater sense of dependency on God’s power working within them.
Unending Humble service
So then we come to what seems a demanding story of continuous labour without expectation of favours from the master.
The slave is expected to do what His master wants, with no special favours. It was probably a common scene in Jesus day. There were often no special conditions of service. You had to just get on with doing what you were supposed to do. The slave may well have food and shelter provided as part of the conditions of service, but the slave had to do what was required without anything extra.
In one way this seems to say that the master asks of us to do something and we must do it. If God calls and we obey that’s the norm that is expected. We are just asked to get on with what we must do as part of our Christian service to God and the community.
In that respect we should never expect any special rewards for doing what is right and good, either towards God or indeed in any acts of service or work. In that way this story is about a humbleness that knows our place to be people ever ready for service to God and others. It challenges every material expection of personal advancement and expected favours and rewards we think we may have earned, to be higher and more deserving than others.
However we should not take that story in isolation and I would not hold with the idea that God is the ever demanding Lord who gives us no acknowledgment or love or reward for our service. There are other sayings and parables that Jesus paints a complete role reversal. There are times when the Master serves the servants. Again in Luke, when he writes about the future reward of the faithful servants he recalls Jesus words:
It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when he comes. Truly I tell you, he will dress himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them.
We should also recall that act of Jesus Himself in John’s record of the Last Supper when Jesus washes the disciple’s feet as sign of His own love for them and the fellowship mutual fellowship they ought to have for each other. The Master stoops down in loving service to his Beloved.
The Humility of God
Which brings me to the next point. Humility not just a demand from God, it’s part of the divine nature.
St Francis of Assisi is credited with setting up the first Christmas Crib scene. He wanted to show the love and Humility of God, the Word Made flesh tiny and vulnerable in the straw and among the beasts in the stable. This was God stooping down into our lives in everlasting service to us. There in the straw God is so humbly for our sake.
This has become a feature of Franciscan teaching down to modern times. God’s own nature contains the virtue of Humility. God in God’s own nature is Humble Love that makes space for the whole of creation. The whole acts of creation are God being humble. God does not need creation, He does not need us, but He calls us into being out of His own Love.
But when I say “God” or “He” I mean the whole Trinity, Father, Soon and Holy Spirit. Their eternal life together has the very essence of Humble Love that is the most perfect goodness. The original production of the Son (Word) from the Father, and the production of the Spirit, breathed out before all time, is the eternal love than gives and gives. This is the nature of the divine love.
So when God asks us to be humble it is our own invitation to a share God’s own nature that is humble love. It is not something extra-ordinary or something we must do to satisfy some law or demanding morality. God invites us into a state of Humility because that’s what the everlasting divine life is about. In being humble and living in Humility we are being the likeness of God we are intended and destined to have.
Humility and the Cosmos
Over the last few years several authors of books and articles I have read about faith and science emphasis this link between God’s Humility and God creating the universe with its own freedom to develop and evolve. God stands back and let’s-be to give life a chance to develop of its own accord with all the possibilities. The cosmos exists as part of Gods’ Humble nature. God waits in patience for things to unfold over billions of years. Creation by evolution is a process founded upon God’s own Humble Love.
Because of that freedom in creation things go wrong and get bad and remain bad. Things remain bad and disordered because things have not yet reached completion. Yet it is into the mess and disorder and selfishness that God comes to share in the present suffering and pain of our existence, born as baby and suffering injustice and death upon the cross. That is the fullest extent of God’s humble love.
Humility and Forgiveness
This takes us back to the disciples request for more faith. They want more faith to deal with the disordered relationships they find around them. But God is Infinite and if we see ourselves selves in the light of God’s own Infinite and Humble love then it will be so much easier.
When we see our own lives in the light of God’s own being then everything looks different. Forgiveness becomes more possible. Humble service becomes more possible
Franciscan Principle of Humility –
So finally having talked about the Franciscan tradition I want to end with some quotes from the Society of St Francis.
We always keep before us the example of Christ, who emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, and who, on the last night of his life, humbly washed his disciples’ feet. We likewise seek to serve one another with humility.
Humility confesses that we have nothing that we have not received and admits the fact of our insufficiency and our dependence upon God
The faults that we see in others are the subject of prayer rather than of criticism.
We take care to cast out the beam from our own eye before offering to remove the speck from another’s.
We are ready to accept the lowest place when asked, and to volunteer to take it. Nevertheless, when asked to undertake work of which we feel unworthy or incapable, we do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness.
Lord Jesus, May we share in your love that is infinite and humble. A-,men