5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The 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.
One of the delights of Luke’s gospel – no other gospel has more ‘delights’ – is that at some time the good evangelist has clearly to go for some kind of editorial order. One of his strategies is to put material together by criteria which do not have much to do with consistency. You might call it the post it note approach – something good , stick it in there. I am sure that that is one reason why the parable of the unjust steward reads so strangely. The parable itself is arresting and a challenge – has anyone ever understood it? – but Luke adds a few paradoxes and some are left puzzled 10 ‘Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. 11 If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth,[d] who will entrust to you the true riches? 12 And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? 13
Today we have Luke doing this beautifully . There is the phrase about mustard seed and mulberry tree and then an illustration about thanks and worth. There is a kind of link – but it is not tidy.
Increase our faith! The apostles say and Jesus answers by saying “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.
Is Jesus giving the apostles guidance on how to improve their believing, how to guard the treasure which St Paul refers to? That is of course a view, but why on earth does Our Lord give such a comparison, that is, between a mustard seed which is tiny and the humanly impossible business of plucking up a tree and plonking it in the sea, something which belongs to the world of fantasy or at least a dream post Camembert?
Jesus is, I suggest, refusing to accept the apostles command, and it is a command, a command to Jesus to meet what they think they need.
You have no idea what you are asking. Faith is not the kind of thing you can measure. It is not a quantity which goes up or down. It is not more faith that you need but to be aware of what it is that you have in you.
Perhaps you may feel that this is avoiding the question, Jesus saying ‘no, I do not go with where you are coming from, ask me another’. There are those around who fret that they do not believe enough or wish that they could believe. That will call for open ears and a few questions, perhaps encouragement to engage with worship or scripture, but it will not be right to do anything that might make them feel inferior to those who do not fret or who do believe.
Believing is not primarily a criterion of human worth, as if one were to say, I have never doubted a thing and therefore score highly. The writer to Timothy bids us to treat what has been given to us with care and to understand what we are if we believe. And some might think that the writer to Timothy and Luke seem to come from very differing contexts in their understanding of believe, but this is not so I think.
What is surely clear is that both regard the business of faith as being something which is not like quantities and not so, because faith is not of this world. Faith puts one on the God side, one has broken through or rather the divine has caught you, what is in you is set alight, rekindled as the writer to Timothy has it. There is nothing to compare to this which is because in faith one has begun that way into the deep and unknowable mystery of God, and the way is God’s way and not a matter of finite dimensions.
If you have a crisis of faith, do not be troubled. That is really quite normal and not to be fussed over – it might upset you but it is no reason for changing your way of life. There are far, far worse things than having a puzzle over whether God exists or not; an occasional wonder whether all is daft and silly, may in some ways be a blessing. What is poor and troubling is to give in to worry, worry about whether one is successfl or whether one is up to date or too so; the writer to Timothy calls this a spirit of cowardice; and it amounts to treating the faith as something trivial, entertaining but not touching reality, what in Christ Jesus was ours before ages began. The writer tells us that the spirit given is one that is effective – it is of power – and it is love and well trained.
If and when you feel discouraged – it might be about something in the church, it might be by this week’s prime minister or the latest stark raving piece of screwpoor economics, whateverWhen that happens, I think we need to remember the lesson Jesus tried to teach his disciples. They came to him asking for “more faith” to be able to live up to the challenging demands of Christian discipleship, and he answered that they didn’t need more faith but rather an sense of what faith is all about.Faith is not a matter of performing spectacular feats; rather it is about continuing to speak the Gospel and live it out every day, regardless of the outcome. When we struggle with discouragement in our day and time, we can remember that it is not our “success” but rather our perseverance that demonstrates God’s powerful and loving presence among us.