Lamentations 1:1-6 and Lamentations 3:19-26 or Psalm 137 • Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4 and Psalm 37:1-9 • 2 Timothy 1:1-14 • Luke 17:5-10
This week's Luke reading is as confusing as it is brief. First, Jesus is talking about a mustard seed. Then he is telling this awful story about a boss telling a tired servant – or slave, possibly – to come in from the field and keep working until all the boss' needs are met. Then and only then, the servants eat, saying that after all they have only done their duty. How do we make sense of these verses?
Beginning with the servant story, I am reminded of a time, years ago, when we lived in Korea. This was the early 1980s, and we were renting a second-floor apartment above the owners, a Korean family. It was a different world from the U.S., to say the least. At that time, Koreans lived in very small spaces – small but kept impeccably clean. Our landlady spent a few days of watching me struggle with a new baby in a new country where I did not speak the language nor know anyone besides my spouse. Then she strongly suggested that we hire her housekeeper, part-time.
We called her "Agima," Korean for aunt, and a general term of respect for any adult woman. Looking back, I can't imagine what Agima thought when she first walked into our apartment. By her standards, it was way below minimum. We were still wearing shoes – inside! No Korean would ever have done so, and we soon stopped. I began observing a level of cleanliness beyond anything I had imagined. Every day she came, Agima squatted, wet mopping every inch of every floor with a tub of water and damp cloths as she made her way through our home. She washed our clothes on a scrub board, hung them out to dry, and ironed as needed. Not only that, but Agima was wonderful with our baby, often carrying him around on her back as she went about her day. No one had to tell her what to do; she was a consummate professional.
"Thank-you" was one of the first words I learned how to say in Korean. But saying it to Agima only brought a puzzled look on her face. My poor pronunciation aside, her reaction told me something else. Thank-you was inappropriate. She was not doing this to gain my approval, praise, or thanks. She was operating from her own internal standards of how a home should be kept, and she was the judge of her own efforts.
Like Agima, the servants in the Luke story took pride in what they were doing. They recognized its worth and were completely uninterested in whether anyone else noticed. In a way, they were like the mustard seed referenced in verse 6. Mustard seeds are small but mighty: an invasive species that can change the character of an entire garden. If you have ever tried to get rid of kudzu, or bamboo, or even an herb like mint, you get the picture. Once these plants get started, they are hard to stop. Although this may be a problem for the gardener, it can have an upside for the individual. Anytime a person is operating from internal principles, without reference to the praise or condemnation of others, a wellspring of energy is tapped. Once found, this wellspring – deep within self – is hard to contain.
Morning: What do I have energy for today? What is important to me to do well? Before I begin, where do I need to think through my own ideas and principles?
Evening: Where was I clear about what I was trying to do? What difference did it make? When did I begin to second guess myself?