Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Parable of the Slave: the hardest one

Luke 17 contains one of the toughest parables. I have never heard a sermon on it. I did hear one theology professor mention it one time.
"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing 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!'"
Today's lection contains this passage - Luke 17:1-10. I haven't done any study on it, but the context gave me more than enough for my own meditation.

The slave parable is in the context of forgiving our kin disciples as many times as they are repentant. The disciples, who react accordingly to any one who takes Jesus seriously at his word, asks for more faith so they can do what he asks. Jesus promises them that even the tiniest amount of true faith will be enough. And then our passage about slaves. They do not come in and get served by their master after a long day, but, rather, come in and work harder.

What I felt the Spirit convicting me of today was: forgiveness should be basic to who we are as disciples. It should be the air we breath. There is no excuse for not forgiving. "Sorry Jesus, I was tired, hungry, upset, etc." The slave doesn't get a pass from his job because he worked all day. He works more because it is his identity. Forgiving the other is so required of us on a daily basis, even a minute-by-minute basis, that this is a thankless task ("Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?").

Slave:Work::Disciples:forgiving each other 

The slavery aspect of this parable is problematic. Slavery gives us a pause, as it should, because it is deplorable and evil. But Jesus tends to use this metaphor in many places to highlight our absolute dependence on the other - whether it be God or other people (Jesus uses this idea of himself, the apostles use it of themselves). What Jesus lands on in this passage is that forgiveness is the absolute, most basic command Jesus gives us ("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!"). Obedience to anything Jesus has commanded means obedience to constant forgiveness.

But why forgiveness? The body of Christ cannot fully exist if it is in discord (cf. John 17:21). All of the letters in the New Testament were written to help their hearers overcome relational obstacles and live as one in the Lord. If community was easy, Paul wouldn't have written a dozen letters to help us do it right. Moreover, Jesus is instructing us that we cannot do this thing alone. We need each other. Without each other we are doomed. 

So, my mind soon wanders to the modernist question: what about on-going abusive relationships? Abusers often ask for forgiveness. Victims often feel as though they are doomed if they leave the relationship. My only conclusion to this question was that, certainly, Jesus wouldn't have asked anyone to stay in a unrepentant, abusive situation ("If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender"). We should physically remove ourselves from the situation. But does physical removal mean that we give up hope for a person's, even a constantly abusive person's, redemption and transformation. We may need to distant ourselves physically and emotionally, but never lovingly or spiritually. We are Christ-followers. We always have hope, especially for the hopeless.

Who have I pushed away that I need to forgive?
Who has sinned against me that I need to reconcile with?
Who have I sinned against and need to repent to?

Often we think of those who have hurt us, but who have we hurt? Who have we sinned against? In our pursuit of Christ, forgiving another is baby steps, confessing and repenting to another is a mile. Do both. All the time. This is your most basic command, the currency in God's new economy.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Soldier Turned Bishop

One of my favorite artists'
rendition of Martin giving his
cloak - El Greco c. 1598
During the 4th century there lived a man, son of a soldier, who became a soldier at age 15 in Constantine's wars. He was considering being a Christian but wavered some.

One day a beggar, freezing in the cold, caught the eye of this young soldier. The soldier had compassion on the man and cut his cloak in half so that they each had relief from the cold. That night, as the soldier slept, Christ appeared to the soldier in a dream wearing the half cloak he had given to the beggar. The soldier immediately gave himself to a life of faith in pursuit of the Way of Jesus.

The soldier demanded that he be released from the military saying, "I have faithfully served Caesar. Let me now serve Christ" and "I am a soldier of Christ, I cannot fight." He was persecuted, thrown in prison, and somewhat threatened with death. When momentary peace came he was released.

This man became a Bishop of the Church after starting the first monastery in Gaul (France). We know him as Bishop Martin of Tours. But what does he have to do with today?

Martin is the patron saint of soldiers. His feast day, the day on which we believe he was buried, is November 11. On Nov. 11 we celebrate Armistice Day, the day World War I was ended by peace treaties signed in France in 1918. Many people saw the end of WWI on Martin's feast in Martin's land as divine providence. Armistice eventually turned into Veterans day.

Here is the prayer most commonly associated with Martin's feast:
"Lord God of hosts, who clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the [universal] faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever."