Mulberry trees

3 October 2010
Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 22 C

Lamentations 1:1-6
Lamentations 3:19-26
2 Timothy 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

This Gospel reading smacks us in the face with our “unworthiness”. We are to be like uncomplaining slaves, right? Just do what you’re told, and don’t expect any praise. It’s unfortunate that we cut off the beginning of the reading. vv. 1-4 read: “He said to his disciples, ‘Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times, saying “I am sorry,” you should forgive him.'” Then comes, “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.'”

In Luke’s Gospel, whenever the Apostles speak to the Lord, we know we are dealing with the post-resurrection church, and not with the disciples around Jesus. The Church has heard this command to forgive a brother or sister seven times in one day, and despaired of ever being able to do it. So they cry out, “Increase our faithfulness” (a better translation). The Lord replies, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would be able to say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Why on earth would anyone want to plant a mulberry tree in the sea?

It’s obviously not about mulberry trees. It’s about uprooting what’s between my brother or sister and me, what impairs the life of community. And then, don’t feel special because you’ve forgiven your brother or sister, but serve them at table, as well. Life in community starts with small steps, faithfulness the size of a mustard seed. You show up. That counts for something. That’s a start. Small steps eventually lead to uprooting messy trees, so that we can serve one another at the Lord’s table.

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