The disciples seem to have got Jesus on an off day. It’s hard to imagine them asking for anything more in keeping with what Jesus was about – faith, and its increase. Yet, according to Luke (Luke 17: 5 – 10), when they ask him simply to ‘increase our faith’, the disciples get a sarcastic retort and a story about remembering their place instead of his smile and affirmation . What is it about their request that appears to evoke his begrudging response?
The stories told by Jesus in response to the disciples’ request are salutary. He seems to have heard something from them of a request for reward and appreciation. Maybe this is not an unfair expectation recognizing everything, even up to that moment, the disciples had given up for him and experienced with him. In truth, who of us does not look for some kind of reward as one of his disciples? After all, have we not also proven ourselves sufficient, at least occasionally? Perhaps, the human in them, and in us all, wanted to be noticed and thanked for their response, their commitment and their support of him.
But the responding challenge to uproot and plant the mulberry tree in an alien environment appears something of an ironic joke at their expense. Of course, this won’t happen. However, it suggests to me that Jesus wants to challenge the disciples about the faith they already possess rather than how much faith they don’t have.
Where the people of God believe they do not have enough faith, it can give an excuse for not living in faith. So we say, ‘If only Jesus would give me more faith just think what I could do!’ Here the blame for not taking the faith into the world, and not bringing the kingdom in, lies with Jesus. It becomes his responsibility, not ours… because if he wanted me to do that then he would give me more faith that would enable me to respond better to his calling.
Yet what is it we are prevented from doing? What would we do differently for the kingdom if we had more faith? What can we not do, even with the mustard seed of faith we already possess?
This is the paradox. It is not that someone can give, or be given, more faith. However, as the faith which we do possess is tested and proven while we live out God’s calling in the day to day, the more faith is found; faith is indeed increased!
Mustard seed faith is about doing… it is about uprooting and planting in extreme and/ or unfamiliar environments; taking risk; practicing the miraculous; remaining open to the disbelief and laughter with the incredulity of the ‘You’re doing what?!’.
With such practices of discipleship, faith is increased.
Thus, the more we live in faith the more faith we find in which to live; even until the end when irrespective of our need for reward, we are simply welcomed as those who have done our duty and lived fully by the faith we have.
Amen, Lord have mercy…