Moving Forward in Good Faith
I sometimes find that I am bothered by passages of scripture like the midweek Gospel from Luke 12: 39-48. The story speaks of ‘the master of that slave’ returning on a day when the slave does not expect him and ‘at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful.’ (Luke 12.46)
But my chafing at this passage ought to be short lived. To start with, the portion set to read is taken out of context. We should have included verse 35: ‘Be dressed for action, and have your lamps lit …’ Then again, we should actually go back to v. 32: ‘Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom!’
Too often faith is dismissed because we have not really been attentive - passages like this are quoted without any knowledge or desire to read and engage with the whole story of God. Consequently, religious texts are misused, and religious faith misrepresented. When we take short cuts or misuse bible texts then we can easily stay with our own tried and true beliefs (as we see them)! This usually means we will stay as babes in the faith, feeding on milk alone (1 Corinthians 3.2). Lawrence Freeman (who I am drawing to help my reflection over these next few weeks) writes,
‘When belief takes the place of faith in the religious mind the possible range of spiritual experience and growth is critically limited.’
Our experience of God is limited because belief helps us stay at arms-length from God. Think about it. If we treated our friendships or my relationship with my partner or children as a matter of principle and description, so we could speak about whom they were and what they required of me then family life would be a dismal affair! Likewise, repeating propositions about God, keeping God as an object, at a distance, is a very diminished faith!
Faith, however, is a way of life, and growth in faith is a process that entails all our human capacities. Faith will grow over time, it will confront challenges, but faith is never a matter of becoming more acceptable to God. Being loved and accepted by God are givens. Faith, Jesus life and death tell us, takes God-reality on board. Even in our greatest imagined duplicity or failure, God is there, as God was in the evil of Crucifixion.
Finally, then, how do we read our midweek gospel? First, as I suggested, we need to be attentive to the whole context. Jesus uses imagery from first century economy to highlight the importance of hope and living in the light of that hope. Jesus uses this parable to emphasise ‘being ready’ (‘the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.’ Luke 12.40) Jesus is inviting us to imagine a future and prepare accordingly. How will the loving healing presence of God shape us, our family, our community? Asking these questions is the first step toward being prepared for God’s future. The second step is to consciously invite God’s presence, the Lord who is always turned toward you.