Luke 17:5-10 – The 20th Sunday after Pentecost – for Sunday, October 2, 2016
“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” (Luke 17:5)
This happened with Luke 17:5-10. Why? Because when contemplating and praying about Luke 17:5-10, it frustrated the heaven out of me. What a muddled collection of verses! Here’s my summation of these six dreary verses:
- Jesus and his disciples are together.
- The disciples requested, “Increase our faith!”
- If they possessed even mustard seed-sized faith, Jesus proclaimed, they could hurl a mulberry tree into the sea for extra landscaping.
- And then Jesus mentioned how a good servant should act.
Unlike me, perhaps you are a faithful, scholarly type who comprehends the obvious truth of this whole and holy passage. Good for you. Go forth and save the world and/or toss a tree into the sea.
But I daydream.
What if I’m dragged back to the seminary where I received enough degrees to prove I could follow simple directions and study the Bible? What if I’m hauled into a first-year class on Biblical interpretation, or (using theological language) into Hermeneutics 101? Please note that hermeneutics is a Greek word based on Hermes, the geeky Greek god of—among other tasks—invention . . . or of what if. In that imaginary class I’m shoved into a chair with a seatbelt strapped around me to prevent any escape.
All the students stare at me.
The professor says, “Once we trained you and sent you forth to share the Good News. Now that you’re out among God’s people, how do you interpret the Bible? Exegetically or eisegetically?”
Please no! Don’t ask that!
I squirm, desperately searching for the imaginary seat belt’s imaginary clasp so that I can be released from this cruel query.
Alas, seat belt firmly in place, my daydream continues . . .
The learned professor waits, eyes narrowing. The seminary students mutter and fret, sensing I am the future of ministry they must avoid.
I slump in the chair. No escape.
Exegesis and eisegesis. Such fancy, creaky-Greeky words.
With an open heart and mind, do I interpret the Bible’s passages by discerning how God’s loving spirit informs me and helps me serve the real needs of my congregation? (Three cheers for exegesis! May God gift me with humble wisdom!)
Or do I force my self-serving ideas onto a Bible’s passage in order to manipulate an unsuspecting, gullible congregation? (Boos and groans for eisegesis!)
[But wait! Give me a break! When I served in churches, there were always demanding laypeople, committee meetings until midnight, and endless hospital visits. Who had time for divine guidance?]
Okay, fine. You’ve caught me. After leaving the hallowed halls of seminary, eisegesis seduced me. Those Sundays and sermons arrived more quickly than the candies on the conveyor belt in the delightful “I Love Lucy” episode. Exegesis is such hard work! I became lazy Hermes, the preacher of invention . . . and convenience.
The professor tsk-tsks.
The students avert their eyes, embarrassed by my presence.
How could I have abandoned my training? Maybe because of inane passages like Luke 17:5-10! That’s how I lost my way! Blame the Bible!
Read the verses north of Luke 17:5. Jesus’ words were potent as he spoke of forgiveness. Keep reading south, past verse 17:10, to the healing of the lepers. Wonderful stuff! I could exegete either of those all day long. I could create sermons or teach classes that would make wise men weep and shepherds sing.
But what of the Biblical snippets that seem to promote slavery? Some translations use servant, but others (like the New Revised Standard Version) interpreted the Greek word to mean slave. What if long-ago Christians used Luke 17:10 to justify owning slaves? In the NRSV, it reads, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done.” How easily the Bible can be selectively quoted to support or undermine nearly any claim.
And so, what of these odd, uninspiring six verses? Don’t teach them? Don’t preach them? Toss them out with that floating mulberry tree? (Or in some translations, it’s a sycamore tree.)
Here’s what I pretend, since I’m still trapped in the class with the demanding professor and disappointed students: what if I unbuckle the imaginary belt and stand tall? I’ll confess to committing numerous eisegetical sins. I’ll admit some verses don’t inspire me. I won’t deny that I’m often less a disciple and more a pretender.
And yet, if there’s nothing else I discern from these six mulberryish verses, it’s the opening plea of verse 5: Increase my faith.
What if the professor hints at a smile? What if a couple of students nod and agree with me? We are all, the best of us, tempted by eisegesis. Overly optimistic, we proclaim the “good news” through rose-tinted glasses. (We so want to please . . . everyone!) Overly cynical, our interpretations are skewed by self-righteous, rust-encrusted eyes. (We so want to make the guilty feel guiltier!)
But enough of the time, once in a while, I live exegetically—and stay open to the God of forgiveness who continues to transform even daydreaming me.
(Tree image from here.)