SCRIPTURE: Luke 17:5-10
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VERSES 1-4: THE CONTEXT
In these verses, Jesus sets forth the dangers of tempting others (vv. 1-2) and the requirement to forgive the repentant sinner (vv. 3-4).
VERSES 5-6: FAITH LIKE A GRAIN OF MUSTARD SEED
5The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." 6The Lord said, "If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you would tell this sycamore tree (Greek: sukamino), 'Be uprooted, and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you."
"Increase our faith" (v. 5). The demands of verses 1-4 are harsh, and the disciples wonder how they can ever meet them. They recognize faith as a gift from God, and ask, "Increase our faith!"
"If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed" (v. 6a). The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds. Jesus chooses this tiny seed to set up a contrast with the large sukamino tree –– engaging in hyperbole to demonstrate the great power of even the smallest bit of faith. It is the same kind of exaggerated language that he will use later to describe a camel going through the eye of a needle (18:25).
"you would tell this sycamore tree, 'Be uprooted, and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you" (v. 6b). Matthew's version, the more familiar one, speaks of moving a mountain instead of uprooting a tree. In Luke's version, Jesus speaks of uprooting a sukamino tree –– probably a large mulberry tree –– and planting it in the sea. The point is that faith, even in small quantities, has great power. The person of faith taps into God's power, which makes all things possible –– even moving trees (difficult) and causing them to grow in saltwater (impossible). It is not our faith that works these wonders, but the God who stands behind our faith.
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VERSES 7-10: WE HAVE DONE OUR DUTY
7"But who is there among you, having a servant (Greek: doulon –– servant or slave) plowing or keeping sheep, that will say, when he comes in from the field, 'Come immediately and sit down at the table,' 8and will not rather tell him, 'Prepare my supper, clothe yourself properly, and serve me, while I eat and drink. Afterward you shall eat and drink'? 9Does he thank that servant (Greek: me echei charin to doulo –– surely he does not have gratitude or grace to the servant) because he did the things that were commanded? I think not. 10Even so you also, when you have done all the things that are commanded you, say, 'We are unworthy servants. We have done our duty.'"
Next we have the Parable of the Under-Appreciated Servant (my title). This parable is difficult for several reasons. First, it seems as if Jesus is approving slavery. Second, it seems uncaring and unfair. Third, it is not our experience. We are accustomed to rewarding faithful employees (or to being rewarded), lest they find a more generous employer (or lest we find another job).
This story, however, does not commend slavery any more than the Parable of the Good Samaritan commends robbery. It simply uses a situation common in Jesus' day to illustrate a spiritual truth –– that "God owes us nothing for living good, Christian lives. God's favor and blessing are matters of grace –– they cannot be earned" (Culpepper, 323).
"Does he thank that servant" (me echei charin to doulo –– surely he does not have gratitude or grace to the servant) (v. 9). The point is NOT that God does not reward obedience, but that our obedience never puts God in our debt. Our salvation is always dependent on God's grace (God's undeserved favor –– God's gift).
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated.
Bailey, Kenneth E., Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes: A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1976)
Barclay, William, The Daily Study Bible, The Gospel of Luke (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew Press, 1953)
Bock, Darrell L., The IVP New Testament Commentary Series: Luke, Vol. 3 (Downers Grove, Illinois, Intervarsity Press, 1994)
Cousar, Charles B.; Gaventa, Beverly R.; McCann, J. Clinton; and Newsome, James D., Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV–Year C (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994)
Craddock, Fred B., Interpretation: Luke (Louisville: John Knox Press,(1990)
Craddock, Fred B.; Hayes, John H.; Holliday, Carl R.; and Tucker, Gene M., Preaching Through the Christian Year, C (Valley Forge: Trinity Press, 1994)
Culpepper, R. Alan, The New Interpreter's Bible, Volume IX. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1995)
Diers, Herman W., Lectionary Bible Studies: The Year of Luke, Pentecost 2, Study Book
Edwards, O.C., Jr., and Taylor, Gardner, Proclamation 2: Pentecost 3, Series C
Evans, Craig A., New International Biblical Commentary: Luke (Peabody, MA, Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1990)
Gilmour, S. MacLean & Buttrick, George A., The Interpreter's Bible, Volume 8. (Nashville: Abingdon, 1952)
Green, Joel B., The New International Commentary on the New Testament: The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)
Johnson, Luke Timothy, Sacra Pagina: The Gospel of Luke (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1991)
Nickle, Keith F., Preaching the Gospel of Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000)
Nolland, John, Word Biblical Commentary: Luke 9:21 –– 18:34, Vol. 35B (Dallas: Word Books, 1993)
Ringe, Sharon H., Westminster Bible Companion, Luke (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press)
Soards, Marion; Dozeman, Thomas; and McCabe, Kendall, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C: After Pentecost (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994)
Stein, Robert H., The New American Commentary: Luke (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1992)
Tannehill, Robert C., Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Luke (Nashville: Abingdon, 1996)
Wallace, Ronald S., Many Things in Parables: Expository Studies (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1955)
Wright, Stephen I., in Van Harn, Roger (ed.), The Lectionary Commentary: Theological Exegesis for Sunday's Text. The Third Readings: The Gospels (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001)
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