The Faith of a Mustard Seed. “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to (this) mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. One might expect Jesus to well receive the request for more faith, but the response seems to imply that the disciples do not (yet) understand the real nature of faith. The saying is grammatically complex in Greek. The first part of verse 6 is a construct that implies the disciples do have the faith, but the second part of the verse contradicts that positive assessment with the implication that the disciples have not yet scratched the surface of the real nature of faith. Continue reading
Praying for Faith: 5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
Why do the apostles make the request: “Increase our faith”? Does their request indicate that one can have more or less faith? If one remembers that pístis (“faith”) is also translated as “trust” then our own experience is that indeed with can trust to different degrees. But what was it that indicated their faith was somehow lacking? Continue reading
When to Rebuke, When to Forgive?
3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.”
The disciples are warned to be on guard lest they become like the Pharisees. Several translations take the term adelphos as “disciple” but our translation does well to let it be literal as “brothers” [and sisters], retaining the communal kinship brought about by their common faith and service. Jesus is stressing that even individual sin has a communal element in that the sin of one may lead others astray. This sense of community is made clear in the Matthean parallel: Continue reading
Things That Scandalize
1 He said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. 2 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.
These two sayings are connected by the words skandala (v. 1) and skandalizo (v. 2). The original meaning of this word group skandal- was “trap;” or, more specifically a trap’s tripping mechanism. The word group is sued to translate the Hebrew próskomma, meaning both “trap” and “stumbling block” or, “cause of ruin.” In the latter sense, this transferred to the religious setting to mean “cause of sin.” But is “cause of sin” the best translation here? Paul says that “Christ crucified is a stumbling block (skándalon) to the Jews (1 Cor 1:23) and describes the cross as a stumbling block (skándalon) (Galatians 5:11). Consider three other modern gospel translations, all noted for faithful adherence to translation.
1“Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! 2 It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (NRSV)
1“It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2 “It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble.” (NASB)
“Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” (ESV)
Either “stumble” or “cause to sin” are valid translations. I would suggest “stumble” given the context of these verses following Jesus’ warnings (direct and via parable) against injustice, indifference, and a lack of hospitality towards those in need – “the little ones,” e.g., Lazarus (16:19-31), the prodigal son (15:11-32), and the poor, crippled, blind and lame (14:12-14). All of these demonstrated behaviors are hostile and in opposition to the Reign of God where the invitation is for all. To set up barriers that keep some outside the kingdom is to become a stumbling block of witness for all – especially those who would be found and restored to the community (cf. Luke 15:1-10, the parables of the lost and found).
With the graphic image of the millstone (see note below), Jesus says it would be better to drown than to become the barrier to another’s repentance and restoration. The watery death is a echo of the fate that befell the rich man (16:24-28) who suffered eternal, fiery torment.
Luke 17:1 Things that cause sin: skandala, a cause of offense or stumbling. The word group is sued to translate the Hebrew próskomma, meaning both “trap” and “stumbling block” or, “cause of ruin” either with idols in view or offenses against the law. As a ground of divine punishment skándalon can then denote an occasion of sinning or a temptation to sin. will inevitably occur: Matthew asserts that it is necessary that sin occurs. Luke notes only that sin is impossible to avoid. woe to the person: this is the 11th woe spoken by Jesus in Luke’s gospel, but the first directed towards the disciples.
Luke 17:2 were put around his neck: The Greek phrase, perikeitai peri ton trachêlon, does not refer to tying one end of a rope a person’s neck and the other end of the rope to a large mill grinding stone. Rather it literally means to insert the person’s head into the hole at the center of the stone – some of which were three to four feet in diameter. to cause … to sin: skandalízō. See note on 17:1. Skandalízō is from the same word group
Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985).
- Stahlin, skándalon , 3:339-58
- Stauffer, epitimáō, 2:623-7
- Behm, metanoēsē , 4:948-80
Scripture – Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC. ©
1 He said to his disciples, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur. 2 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. 3 Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4 And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.” Continue reading
“…between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.…” Such are words spoken about Lazarus and the rich man, traditionally known as Dives. The words describe their fates in the afterlife: Lazarus comforted by Abraham while Dives languishes in a hellish afterlife.
But here is the thing – the chasm really wasn’t new; it was fixed a long time ago and made wider every time the rich man came and went to his safe, secure and plush home and ignored Lazarus. Don’t get me wrong, this parable indeed talks about the eternal consequences of the life we lead, but it is also about our lives now. And maybe, just maybe, St. Luke has been talking to us about the chasms, the great divides we have slowly built into our lives – and our failure to see them in the here and now. Continue reading
It’s hard to sustain a regular life of prayer. Why? Why is it so difficult to pray regularly? Some reasons are obvious: over-busyness, tiredness, and too many demands on our time, constant distraction, spiritual laziness, worship services that bore us, and methods of prayer that leave us flat and inattentive.
But there is another reason too, suggested by monks and mystics. The problem we have in sustaining prayer, they say, is often grounded in the false notion that prayer needs to be interesting, exciting, intense, and full of energy all the time, but that is impossible. Nothing is meant to be exciting all the time, including prayer and church services, and nobody has the energy to always be alert, attentive, intense, and actively engaged all the time.
Sometimes we don’t pray regularly precisely because we simply cannot find within ourselves the energy, time, intensity, and appetite for active participation that we think prayer is demanding of us. But prayer respects the natural rhythms of our energy. Praying is like eating. You don’t always want a banquet – sometimes we just want a quick sandwich by ourselves.
Eating has a natural rhythm: banquets and quick snacks, rich meals and simple sandwiches, high times with linen serviettes and low times with paper napkins; meals which take a whole evening, and meals which you eat on the run. And the two depend upon each other: You can only have high season if you mostly have ordinary time.
Healthy eating habits respect our natural rhythms: our time, energy, tiredness, the season, the hour, our boredom, our taste. Prayer should be the same, but too often we are left with the impression that all prayer should be this wonderful moment sensing the presence of God. And when it is not, we wonder about our faith, our prayer, or if God is listening.
Monks have secrets worth knowing. They know that it is the rhythm, routine, and established ritual of prayer that is key. For monks, the key to sustaining a daily life of prayer is not so much variety, novelty, and the call for higher energy, but rather a reliance on the expected, the familiar, the repetitious, the ritual, the clearly defined. They know that what’s needed is a clearly delineated prayer form which gives you a clear time expectation and does not demand of us an energy that we cannot muster on a given day. What clear, simple, and brief rituals provide is precisely prayer that depends upon something beyond our own energy. The rituals carry us, our tiredness, our lack of energy, our inattentiveness, and our indifference. They keep us praying even when we are too tired to muster up our own energy.
The rhythm, routine, and established ritual of prayer can sustain our love for God and our neighbor – even if we don’t have the energy for it.
From Alan R. Culpepper [319-20]
Did the brothers ever get the message? We are not told, for that is the question the parable leaves us to answer. Each of us will write our own ending to the story.
1. Archbishop Richard Trench, writing on this parable more than a century ago, compared the diseases that afflicted the two characters:
The sin of Dives in its root is unbelief: hard-hearted contempt of the poor, luxurious squandering on self, are only the forms which his sin assumes. The seat of the disease is within; these are but the running sores which witness for the inward plague. He who believes not in an invisible world of righteousness and truth and spiritual joy, must place his hope in things which he sees, which he can handle, and taste, and smell. It is not of the essence of the matter, whether he hoards [like the rich fool, 12:16–21] or squanders [like the prodigal son, 15:11–32]: in either case he puts his trust in the world.
The rich man, therefore, characterizes the life of one who serves mammon because he has no confidence in God (cf. 16:13). Continue reading
Act 3 – The Dialogues. To a first century hearer of the parable, the fates of the two would have been surprising for it went against the grain of the common wisdom: blessings in this life were a sign of God’s favor while illness, poverty, and hardship were a sign of God’s curses. Yet the one well “blessed” in his lifetime is now tormented in the netherworld (see the Note on 16:23 below) where he can see Lazarus and Abraham across the great chasm that divides them (v.26).
The First Exchange. 24 And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ 25 Abraham replied, ‘My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. 26 Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ Continue reading
22 When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
Act 2 – The Rich Become Poor and the Poor Become Rich. The Act is briefly told and simply describes the fate of our two characters. “When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and from the netherworld, where he was in torment…” (vv.22-23a). We are not told how Lazarus died. Was it starvation? Again we are reminded of Jesus’ admonition to the Pharisees. “Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (14:12-14). Was it exposure and hypothermia while the rich man slept nearby? Infected sores while the rich enjoyed baths and healing ointments? Perhaps weakened and unable to defend himself, the dogs took his life. Continue reading