Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 22, c] October 6, 2019
1 And [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”
In the name of Jesus.
Just do your job. Coach Bill Belichek is famous for that. Multiple super bowls, always in the playoffs, and when he’s asked what he says to his New England Patriot players to motivate them, he says, “Do your job.”
“If one guy is out of position,” says coach Belichek, “then someone is running through the line of scrimmage and he’s going to gain a bunch of yards.”
So, to every player: Do your job. Play your position. It’s simple.
And it sounds a bit like Jesus telling the Apostles of the servant who dresses properly as a servant and serves his master’s household with food and drink, as he is appointed to do.
Should that servant be called a hero because he did what was given him to do? No, the servant did the servant job. Simple enough. As Coach Belichek would tell us, Do your job. Play your position. Luke 17:10:
[Jesus said,] “So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
So far, so good. We now have Jesus as life-coach, as someone who shows us wisdom of how to live in the daily grind—we have him as an early-century Coach Belichek.
So we must be missing something. Because Jesus didn’t come to be a life-coach. He came to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, he came to seek and to save that which was lost. He came to give his life on the cross to ransom the sinner. He came to justify you and me.
So when Jesus teaches a parable, if what we hear is good advice on how to organize our lives, or good advice on how to handle money or stewardship, instead of hearing the voice of the Lamb of God who is going to the cross to save sinners, then maybe we have robbed the parable of the Gospel and turned it into Law.
The One speaking the parable is Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the Gospel.
Jesus justifies the sinner. He gives sinners peace in their consciences. He gives sinners to know that when they hear his Name, they are hearing the One who forgives sin and makes them his own.
“So you also,
“when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”
This is the cross. For Jesus is speaking to his Apostles, and he is setting them to do what they are given to do as his servants.
What did Jesus give them to do? That comes a few verses earlier. Forgive. Forgive the sinner. Forgive those who sin against you. Do not count sins. Do not keep digging up the wrongs. Forgive. Each day. Multiple times each day. Seven times in a day, says Jesus—the number seven being the number of fullness and completion.
If you do not forgive sins, you are withholding what I have given you to do. If you find ways to hold on to sins, you are with the Pharisees and scribes who, when they come up with the strongest charge they can with which to publicly convict and shame Jesus, the charge they come up with is, “This [Jesus] receives sinners and eats with them.” [Luke 15:1]
Jesus hears the charge; he takes it. He speaks no excuse, he voices no intent to improve the sinners so they are somehow more acceptable to the scribes and Pharisees, he takes the charge. He wears it all the way to the cross.
So when Jesus tells his disciples to forgive sins, freely and abundantly to release people from guilt, he is doing it in a world where the Pharisees are telling these same disciples to not release sins. To use the Law of God to keep sinners under guilt. To accuse people and cover them in shame.
To forgive sins when the Law is there ready to accuse; to forgive sins when the person you are forgiving doesn’t really deserve forgiveness; to forgive sins when everyone around you is expecting to do a better job of improving lives with the Law—to forgive sins is not easy. It can’t be done just by putting in harder work and more effort.
Forgiving sins is done by faith. Faith is in Christ Jesus, the one who receives sinners and eats with them, who is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, who freely and abundantly forgives those who sin against him—to forgive sins is done only by faith in him who is the friend of sinners.
Forgive sins seven times, forgive sins the fulness of times, says Jesus.
When the Apostles hear that, they say, Increase our faith. [Luke 17:5]
The Apostles had that right. If they are going to forgive sins, they are not going to do it because someone told them the right mechanics about how to do it, like a football coach telling the linebacker where he’s supposed to line up on a 3rd and seven.
If they are going to forgive sins, freely and abundantly, they are going to do it because they know who Jesus is. They are going to do it by faith in him.
Now the parable makes sense as it can only when seen in view the cross.
Forgive sins, Jesus says. Freely and abundantly—forgive them all day long, as many times as it takes, and don’t do any math on what is the right number or the right time.
Forgive as servants appointed to do just that, as servants doing only what you have been authorized to do by the master of the house. Forgive sins without looking for payment, with no expectation of reward, but forgive as servants who, when you have done what you are given to do, then say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” [Luke 17:10]
The cross is in those words. The cross is in the title, “unworthy servants.” For no one is a worthy servant of Jesus’. The question with Jesus is not whether or not you are a worthy servant, but whether or not he has made you his servant.
Because to be a servant of Jesus’ is everything. No one makes himself or herself a servant of Jesus’. No one enters the Lord’s household on his or her own. No Christian is self-made.
But to be called into the household, to be given the Name of the Lord in Baptism, to be called his own so that he even honors you to be his servant, this is the cross. This is the crucified One claiming those whom he has ransomed and cleansing them with his own blood, so that they are now worthy by faith in him.
And as these servants, we don’t forgive anyone because we are worthy to—we are not—but we forgive as those who are forgiven, as those whom he honors to make his servants to give gifts as freely and abundantly as he desires.
And when we find ourselves in our stinginess, holding on to debts, we turn to him and say, “Increase our faith.” For he is the one who receives sinners and eats with them, and our faith is in him.
In the Name of Jesus.