If we’re lucky, there are wise people in our lives present at exactly the right moments, the ones who say the things not only that we need to hear, but the things we are ready to hear. I remember moments of insight supplied by a youth group leader, a seminary professor, a therapist, a spiritual guide, even once a pastor. Sometimes the teacher is a child, a character in a book, a phrase set to music, a non-judgmental dog.
I’ve often said I learned more about loving people as they are from my first Bernese Mountain Dog, Molly, than from anyone else in my life. She was unfailingly friendly, not just to other dogs, but to every person she met. She loved the dog park, where she made the rounds, greeting everyone. In her later years, when arthritis limited her activity, she would stick close to the gate and greet people as they arrived.
She did not discriminate.
Now, I believe that the lessons we need to learn don’t sink in just because they are being offered. Timing matters. Molly embodied something I believed in my higher mind but had trouble living into, out of some mixture of fear and snobbery. I suspect at an earlier point in my life I could have gotten a friendly dog and still have remained cautious. The time was right. The teacher was wise. The student was ready.
Jesus said to his disciples, “Things that cause people to trip and fall into sin must happen, but how terrible it is for the person through whom they happen. It would be better for them to be thrown into a lake with a large stone hung around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to trip and fall into sin. Watch yourselves! If your brother or sister sins, warn them to stop. If they change their hearts and lives, forgive them. Even if someone sins against you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I am changing my ways,’ you must forgive that person.”
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. (Luke 17:1-6, CEB)
The apostles, defined in Luke as that inner circle of twelve, obviously have the ultimate Teacher in their lives, but the gospels show us again and again moments when they are not able to comprehend the things Jesus hopes to teach them. In these verses, they seem to have grasped that they are being called to life-changing ministry. Don’t lead others into sin. Forgive over and over. It’s their own lives they need to change.
“Increase our faith!” they cry.
Well, I hear it as a cry.
I’ve felt that way when I can see that I need more faith to live into whatever is coming next, to absorb the lesson being offered, to put it to work on behalf of Jesus, to get the learning and the timing right
Much as I appreciate the moments when a clear teaching is offered by a particular wise person, I know that God sometimes offers enlightenment by a preponderance of the evidence. We just have to pay good attention.
I feel it now.
I’m pretty sure the time is right.
Dear Lord, I’m attending to you, and I think I hear what you’re saying. Please. Increase my faith. Amen.
I’m reading and blogging about Luke for Lent. Want to read along? The full schedule can be found here.