I love how I block things. For example I had no idea that the beloved Mustard Seed text was juxtaposed so handily with a troubling text about slavery and masters. I’m sure the issue is my whiteness in a white context. In the United States, at least, we are too often tempted to make a hard pass on those texts that trouble us.
The disciples would like more faith, they want a quantity of faith, enough faith (what does that even mean: enough?). The disciples are once again displaying their human tendencies to quantify the unquantifiable.
Quote from “Miracle on 34th Street”
Jesus answers that it’s not about the quantity of faith one has–I think perhaps faith doesn’t work in a way that we easily understand. The smallest bit of faith can move the a mulberry tree. (Questions abide, why pick a mulberry tree? What is the the relationship between mustard and mulberries? Why plant it in the ocean anyway?)
Then Jesus explicates more, through slavery. If this isn’t a works vs. faith problem ready to happen, I don’t know what is.
When the slave comes in from working all day, you would not tell him to sit and eat your meal. You ask the slave to serve you first and then, at last the slave can eat. And you do not thank slaves.
I can imagine the disciples are nodding along, agreeing.
Then, Jesus flips the script and suddenly, we are the slaves. We are the ones not being thanked, we are the ones doing the work. Our code is suddenly wrong and we have to switch. Now we are doing the work, and it’s apparently the kind of work you don’t get thanked for.
What kinds of work do we not get thanked for? What are the kinds of work that we do not need thanks for, or the thank you get to be ridiculous?
For me that work is parenting. My mom’s best friend had a child and then twins right after not even a year apart. She used to say she’d quit, but she couldn’t figure out where to turn in her resignation. I have another colleague who has foster to adopted a daughter, and she points out that people often say they could never do that–and she often thinks, well really you could, it’s just real work to do it.
Then there is my own situation of mothering a child with autism. I definitely don’t have a choice, and I love it, and it’s the hardest thing in my life; it is little wonder that I don’t know what to do when people thank me for doing the job of mothering all three of my kids with varying needs, or even doing the mothering thing and then pastoring on top of it. I’m uncertain if I should be thanked, and tend to brush the thank you off, because I’m not doing it to be thanked, I’m doing it to do a good job. I think this is the kind of work Jesus is trying to convey with the whole slave thing.
Add to it the baggage of racism and bigotry, and you end up with a whole different sermon. There is much labor that is done that we expect people to do for us without thanks. We expect people of color, women, those with disabilities and the queer community to be our token without thanks. We expect them to do the emotional labor of acting “normal” and to be able to code switch into our society, and we never give them thanks. We also expect education and explanation about who these people are and why it is they perceive things so differently and that they have to consistently choose to correct or ignore our bigoted bias–all without thanks.
I think Jesus is telling us that we are worth more than what is noted, counted. We are worth way more than we are ever thanked for.
Button found here
Are we enslaved to society and expectations and the polite thank you of our lives? How are we freed by Christ to practice the little space of faith we receive in the form of a mustard seed? How does that freedom allow us to move mountains and replant mulberry trees and trans kids and people of color into spaces and environments they would never usually be in and not only live but thrive? How is your faith freeing and moving you today? Let us know!
Katy Stenta is a solo pastor at a tiny church that is bigger on the inside in Albany, NY for over eight years and blogs at firstname.lastname@example.org She is also the co-founder of the fledgling TrailPraisers inclusive Worship. When she is not dreaming up projects and ideas, some of which creep into the church, she plays with her three boys-boys or goes and visits her husband at the library, while he works, to read.
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