If only we had faith the size of a mustard seed.
I am reminded of the story of a young man who lived “long ago, in a galaxy far away.” Born of uncertain parentage and raised on the desert planet of Tatooine by his aunt and uncle, Luke Skywalker seemed destined for life as a farmer… until his life was overtaken by events… events that would shape his world for generations to come. Y’all know this story: Star Wars!
Young Skywalker’s problem was that he thought he had it all figured out. Most of us have felt that way at least once or twice in our lives. Perhaps some of us still feel that way. Those were heady days: a movement of freedom-minded citizens of the Republic had coalesced around Princess Leia and other rebel leaders in opposition to the evil Emperor Palpatine and his chief henchman Darth Vader. The Rebellion had experienced some successes, but the overall trajectory of the movement was not good… the Emperor was a servant of the Dark Side and immensely powerful. And, in his impatience to do his part in saving the world, Luke often found himself in over his head. After making a name for himself by destroying the Death Star and helping to evacuate the rebel base on the ice world of Hoth in the face of overwhelming Imperial force, Luke was forced to crash land his X-wing space plane in a bog on the planet Dagoba.
That was where he met, and became apprenticed to, a physically diminutive, yet spiritually formidable, Jedi Master named Yoda. Yoda often lamented Luke’s impetuousness and seeming inability to finish anything he started. Though he knew that the fate of the universe depended upon Luke becoming a master Jedi, himself, in order to counterbalance the machinations of the evil Emperor and Vader, Yoda frankly doubted whether such a transformation was possible. So often, during training, Luke would get distracted… or discouraged. One day, as Luke lamented his inability to recover his crashed X-wing from the bog where it had been sitting partially submerged since his arrival, Yoda challenged him to harness the power of the Force, that ineffable power that permeates and animates the Universe–and that is served by all true Jedi–to accomplish the task. Luke was skeptical. He had just been levitating stones (pretty cool, huh?)… but a spacecraft? “Always with you, what cannot be done,” chided Yoda. “Alright, I’ll give it a try,” responded Luke, a bit sullenly. “No!” countered Yoda. “Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.” So Luke extended his hand towards the craft and willed it to rise. And it began to move. It really did! But then it sank again. “I can’t. It’s too big,” gasped Luke, exhausted. Yoda sagely observed that Luke’s failure to raise the fighter was a direct consequence of his failure to trust in the Force… but Luke just couldn’t see it: “You want the impossible,” he said. So Yoda showed him how it was done. And he made it look easy. The X-wing rose out of the bog like a kitten being lifted by the nape of its neck by mama cat, and came to rest delicately on shore at the water’s edge. Luke was amazed!
Lord, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5).
I think, sometimes, that we, like Luke Skywalker, forget that we are destined for a purpose greater than the here and now. We think we have it all figured out. We forget that God has a plan for us, not we as a people… or nation… or faith, but each one of us. You… and you… and you… each of us. Apart from your role as a Kingdom bringer, I can’t say what it is precisely that God has in store for you. I don’t even have a grand vision of what God is asking of me… I do know that I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be, doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing… today. And I can see a hint, just the barest hint, of the path ahead… but that’s all. And that, in and of itself, is a great gift. But the only way I’ll ever have the strength and courage to truly live into God’s plans for me, plans that may include difficulty and hardship, is to put my faith in the Master and Creator of all things. The One who sent his son to be incarnate with us… to provide us with an example of what it means to be fully-human… which is a reflection of God’s will for us. “Increase our faith!” we beg. Show us the way. And Jesus did just that… he showed us the way. But it wasn’t easy… it was never meant to be easy. It was excruciatingly hard. But in showing us the way, Jesus showed us the Father… so that we might have faith… and live.
It is in grappling with the difficulties of this temporal life that we will find salvation. The slave (cf. “servant” in the NIV) metaphor that Jesus used in our Gospel lesson today was one his disciples could easily understand. There was a pecking order in Greco-Roman society back in those days, just as there is in our own day and time. There were those who gave orders and those who acted upon them. And everybody served somebody… a person giving the orders in one situation might well be receiving them in another. Of course, God does not see his beloved sons and daughters as slaves (or servants) any more than we see our own children as such. But we must never forget that God is God, and we are not. We have been put on Earth by our Creator for a purpose, and we’d best be working at it… hard… every day. And if we are faithful, if we are diligent, then we will find ourselves equal to even seemingly impossible tasks. Not though our own means, but by the grace of God. Best not to get ahead of ourselves. Our reward is not here in our earthly schoolhouse, but in heaven. God loves us, and wants us to become the creatures we were created to be, but I’m pretty sure we would be mistaken in expecting “gratitude” from the Almighty for living into our vocations. Similarly, we should not be asking God to “Increase our faith!” If faith was something that could be imposed upon us, then it wouldn’t really be faith, would it? We must decide to be faithful. It’s an ongoing requirement in our journey to salvation, and it’s not optional. We sometimes say we try to have faith, but that’s not enough. To paraphrase Master Yoda, “Have faith. Or do not have faith. There is no try.” That’s a tall order, isn’t it? I know it is for me. But the reward will exceed your expectations at the end of days when you stand before your Master and are embraced and greeted as a beloved child of God and hear:
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt 25:21 NIV)
May the Force be with you.