Once upon a time, a family in a small village owned a strong and dependable horse that helped the family in farming and transportation. They loved the animal and treated it like a family member, but one day, the horse suddenly disappeared. Many villagers felt sorry for them and thought they were cursed.
They came to express their sympathy, but the old man of the family replied with a smile, “Don’t be sorry for us! It may or may not be a bad thing.” The villagers were surprised at the old man for taking it lightly because losing the family horse in those days was equivalent to losing their livelihood.
A couple of months later, the horse returned, bringing ten wild horses along. Suddenly, it was like a windfall of fortunes. The villagers came and congratulated the family for the great blessing they received, but the old man said, “Oh, don’t get too excited! It may or may not be a good thing.”
As the old man’s son tried to train the wild horses, he fell from a horse and broke his leg. The villagers thought this family was now completely cursed. With a disabled son, who would work the farm and feed the family? Which woman would marry a cripple? This family’s lineage had ended.
The villagers came to console the family, but again, the old man said, “Don’t be sorry for us. It may or may not be a bad thing.” Some villagers sneered, thinking the old man was insane and in denial. His future was ruined.
A few months later, a war broke out, and the government summoned every family with an able-body man to join the military to fight the war. His son was spared from the draft due to his broken leg. The fierce fallout between the two countries resulted in heavy casualties.
Many families in the village lost their sons in the war, and they began to appreciate the old man for at least having a son with a broken leg to take care of the family. (End of the story.)
This story keeps me humble because, as I grow older, I’ve discovered that a lot of things in life are not the way we thought they would turn out to be. We think we know what a blessing or a curse is and fail to welcome the surprises.
It takes humility to see the blessings in disguise, count the blessings, and express gratitude. Faith is humility, not confidence. Somehow, we equate faith with confidence. So we want stronger faith and build confidence. The disciples asked Jesus for more faith, but Jesus said all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed, and with just that, you can move mountains and fulfill impossible missions.
By teaching us to have a mustard-seed-sized faith, Jesus wants us to have a humble faith because a strong faith can make us corky, just like the Pharisees and scribes. If you think your faith is not strong, it may be a blessing.
You have heard that courage is not the absence of fear, but courage is moving forward despite the fear. In the same way, faith is not confidence but moving forward despite uncertainty. If you wait until you are confident to move forward, you will never move. It’s normal for a person of faith to feel like having impostor syndrome because it just means you are humble.
On the other hand, it doesn’t mean you can move with zero faith. You do need some faith to move forward, but as Jesus said, all you need is a mustard-seed-sized faith—nothing more and nothing less. If you have more, you will lose humility; if you have less, you will lose mobility. Faith is an art.
The art of faith is keeping the equilibrium at the size of a mustard seed to avoid the devil’s traps of delirious doubt and pernicious pride.
In today’s scripture lesson, Jesus revealed what he meant by the mustard-seed-sized faith. We will learn from him that faith is not confidence but persistence with humility. So, let’s begin!
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you, and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson today is from the Gospel according to Luke 18:1-8. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. 3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ 4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? 8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:1-8).
[This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!]
At a glance, this parable sounds like a simple lesson on persistent prayer, but we need to read the context to find out why Jesus told this parable. Then, we can appreciate its deeper meaning. The dialogue began with the Pharisees asking him about the kingdom of God in the previous chapter.
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Luke 17:20–21).
The word “among” here is translated from Greek, “ἐντός (entós),” meaning “within, inside, or within your soul.” So, it’s more precisely translated as “the kingdom of God is within you,” as in NIV, NCV, KJV, and a few other translations. The Chinese Bible translates it as “the kingdom of God is inside your heart.” (因為上帝的國就在你們心裏.)
The mainline denominations—Roman Catholic or Protestant—seem afraid to translate this word to “within you” instead of “among you” because we prefer the collective concept of the kingdom. The conspiracy theory is that the church wants you to believe that organized religion is the kingdom. If the kingdom of God is “within you,” the church might lose control of you.
Let’s be faithful to Jesus’ intended meaning. According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus said that “the kingdom is within you and without you.” I believe that’s accurate. It’s not either within or without, but it’s both because eternity is not limited by time and space.
If you have the kingdom within, you will see it without. Just like in the story I told you a few weeks ago, if you are a saint in your heart, you will see everyone as a saint.
Jesus wanted the Pharisees not to worry about WHEN the kingdom would come. As long as their hearts were full of pride, they wouldn’t enter the kingdom anyway. They need to be humble down and loosen up to receive the kingdom now. In this context, Jesus told two parables to teach us how to pray with humility. Today, we cover the first one, the Parable of the Widow and an Unjust Judge.
Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’ (Luke 18:1-3).
Based on the context, justice here represents the kingdom of God because only in the kingdom of God is justice done justly. The odds are against us in seeking justice in this fallen world. The judge doesn’t fear God nor respect people, and we are like the widow without clouts or resources.
Recognizing the odds being against us makes us humble. Jesus wants us to pray constantly to maintain a kingdom life. We know what we need to do. We want to bear the fruit of the spirit, but we keep bearing the fruit of the ego. We wake up every morning hoping to win the day but go to bed feeling like a failure.
Jesus asks us not to lose heart but be persistent with prayer because we are fighting the spiritual war against the devil who constantly tries to keep us away from the kingdom. If the devil cannot make us poor, he will make us proud. The verse right after this parable says,
“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt.” (Luke 18:9).
Confidence is trusting oneself, and confidence can make us contemptuous. We are in a no-win situation in this fallen world. If we do well, we lose humility, and if we do poorly, we lose heart. So, Jesus wants us to be relentless in our strive for the kingdom. So, he is teaching us that faith is not confidence but persistence against all odds. Jesus continued,
For a while he (the judge) refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’ ” (Luke 18:4-5).
I want to remind you again of Jesus’ sense of humor. Don’t just read this parable in a serious manner and fail to enjoy Jesus’ joke. The way Jesus described this atheist judge sounds comical. The Pharisees were too serious and had no sense of humor. Jesus wanted them to lighten up.
Humor, humility, and human come from the same Latin root word, “humus,” meaning “earth.” A humorous person is down-to-earth. When you realize Jesus is a funny teacher, reading the Bible becomes even more enjoyable. Jesus teaches you how to be down-to-earth with humor and humility.
And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? (Luke 8:6-7).
Jesus is saying God has a soft spot for humble hearts. Notice he says, “chosen ones who cry to him day and night.” The Pharisees were confident that they were the chosen ones, but they didn’t feel they needed to cry to God day and night.
The real chosen ones see the devil’s traps of delirious doubt and pernicious pride. Our constant prayer is the cross we must carry to keep the equilibrium to maintain a fruitful life. We must not lose heart. Now the last verse gives us a lot to unpack.
I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8).
Again, we need to keep in mind that justice here represents the kingdom of God. God is ready to give us the kingdom immediately, but nobody claims it. It’s like the Parable of the Great Banquet. The great banquet is ready, but nobody comes.
All Jesus wants is a mustard-seed-sized faith. Jesus laments the lack of faith on earth, not even the size of a mustard seed. At the beginning of his ministry, he was surprised that he couldn’t perform any miracle in his hometown because of their unbelief. Our lack of faith even surprises God.
We learn two truths from Jesus’ lament. The first is by turning this parable upside down to see that the odds are against Jesus. He is the widow. We are like the unjust judge, faithless and heartless, but Jesus has been relentless, believing his persistent knock on our doors will eventually melt our hearts.
By this lament, Jesus reveals that he doesn’t have confidence in us, but he has a mustard-seed-sized faith that keeps him relentlessly persuading us to give him a chance. Jesus exemplifies what he teaches in this parable. He does not lose heart because he knows his creation. We will eventually give in to his love.
The second truth is we humans do not even have enough faith to redeem ourselves. We need God’s grace. We need Jesus’ blood on the cross to redeem us. Jesus may not have confidence in us, but he still moved forward with faith and died for us, hoping his irresistible grace would melt our stone-cold hearts.
This parable takes us on a journey of different emotions. It begins with hopelessness, then persistence, then humor, and then tears at the end. We can hear Jesus weeping in his heart when he says, “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
The great banquet is ready, but nobody comes. You are invited, but where are you? The host is weeping because you don’t show up. As C. S. Lewis said,
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” ~ C.S. Lewis.
Faith is not confidence but persistence. Jesus has exemplified it, and he expects us to embody it. Let’s join the banquet every day so that when the Lord comes, he will find faith on earth, at least from us. Remember, he is not asking for much. All he wants to see is just mustard-seed-sized faith from you. Let’s give him. We can afford it!
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom and happiness.