XVIII Pentecost, Year C
Lam 1:1-6 or * Hb 1:1-4;2:1-4
Lam 3:19-26 or Ps 137 * Ps 37:1-9
2 Tm 1:1-14
How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the LORD has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall! My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
* (Habakkuk 1:1-4)
The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous– therefore judgment comes forth perverted.
* (Habakkuk 2:1-4)
I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. Then the LORD answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
(2 Timothy 1:1-14)
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I am grateful to God–whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did–when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. "Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’"
The lectionary omits verses 1-4. We find this omission rather strange, for the following verses are virtually incomprehensible without them. The parabolic metaphor of the servant makes little sense apart from what it means to serve in the kingdom as an agent of forgiveness. We shall therefore, take into consideration verses 1-4 as we explore the text today.
The text today is explicitly about the relation of faith to forgiveness. Faith in God is expressed precisely in forgiveness of the one who sins against us. The disciples find this particular juxtaposition of faith and forgiveness to be difficult, if not impossible. Why is this so? And are the disciples in the text really different than we modern Christians?
The text begins with a warning that the “things which cause people to sin are bound to come” (NIV). But what is sin? What are these ‘things’ to which Jesus refers? A clue is given in the text; these ‘things’ are those that scandalize (skandalizo). This term has a specific content in mimetic theory. Scandals are the stumbling blocks we place in our relationships. They are objects that we have desired that we unconsciously need the other to desire in order to validate our initial mimetic desiring. The first stage in our ‘sin’ is to believe that what we desire arises autonomously within us, the second stage is the need to find others who will value the ‘object of desire’ with us so that we, in creating a rivalry, can achieve not only mastery over the object, but also mastery over the other. In the fragmented view that we are autonomous individuals, we need others to validate what we desire; our desire is not enough in and of itself; that is to say, our desire remains non-metaphysical or incomplete without the accompanying rivalry that will produce the effects of enhancing our desire and validating us in that desire.
But how shall we then relate to those who have scandalized us? Those who have drawn us into their mimetic world by encouraging us to desire that which they value? With judgement? No. As servants in the kingdom of the Father we are those who, like the Father, forgive and forgive and forgive without count, without reckoning. We are those who do not hold to account the sins of the other, the scandals of the other no matter how small or great, no matter whether few or many. This fundamental principle of forgiveness is what undergirds all of our actions and interactions between and with one another. This singular ‘sentence of holy law’ of Jesus is the presupposition for everything we consider ‘Christian.’
Little wonder that the disciples cried out “Increase our faith!” when they realized what Jesus was asking. Luke brings together Jesus teaching about forgiveness, the power of faith, and the slave-place of the disciple for a reason. The disciples here realize that they cannot accomplish that which Jesus asks apart from the gift of faith. Jesus then confirms that this is possible, only to add a (sometimes) confusing admonition not to expect to sit at the table at the end of a day of service.
What is really at work here? Simply put, Luke has linked these sayings so as to encourage believers to remain perpetually aware of their constant status as “slaves” in need of God’s grace (the second statement) and the availability of the same (faith the size of a mustard seed).
In other words, we cannot forgive as Jesus asks us to unless we 1) are aware of the forgiveness we constantly receive and 2) are equally aware of the way that we constantly need it. When we approach God as slaves in need of favor, knowing our own sin, and trust in that forgiveness (trust = faith), then it is easy to pass along to others the forgiveness that we have received.
It may seem harsh that Jesus calls us to rebuke one another in our sin. When we approach God with the humility Jesus suggests, that rebuke becomes gift, not judgment. It is a call to repentance and a reminder of the availability of forgiveness.
None of us can avoid falling into the trap of “scandalizing” our neighbors. Jesus calls us to remain constantly aware of that, of God’s unrelenting forgiveness, and to allow that forgiveness to enable us to do the same for others.
No significant issues are brought forward in the commentaries that affect a mimetic reading of the text today.
When Jesus suggests that we dispense forgiveness to another “disciple” (NRSV) who repents, he uses the technical term for a co-believer, “brother.” (Gk) That is to say, we rebuke a “brother” (or sister) who is a believer because, being a believer, they already know the reality of the forgiveness that is theirs. We rebuke in love, and restore in love, as a part of supporting one another in community. It is necessary for us to have this teaching because of the sad reality that “believers” tend to fall into the expectation that other believers will not sin, that sinning is worthy of excommunication, a sign that there is no faith at all. Jesus reminds us here that we can have no such expectation, forgiving EVEN other believers, while we continue to offer God’s profligate grace to the rest of the world.