Sermon 2 October 2022 | Rev Lopini Inia |
In today’s passage, Jesus begins by comparing faith to a tiny mustard seed, but he goes on to explain that it isn’t how much faith you have that matters. It’s how you use it. 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.
If you’re thinking this saying about faith and mustard seeds sounds familiar, you’re right. We also hear Jesus make this statement in the Gospel of Matthew. But Matthew puts Jesus in a different setting than Luke does for this teaching. In Matthew 17, Jesus has just cast out a demon that the disciples couldn’t get to budge. When they ask him why they couldn’t get rid of the demon, he tells them, “Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
But here in Luke’s gospel, Jesus is answering the disciples’ request for increased faith. Jesus had just been teaching them about forgiveness, and the importance of forgiving. Perhaps they realized that the kind of forgiveness Jesus was asking them to offer required more faith than they had. At least the disciples understood that faith wasn’t something they could manufacture on their own. They knew that faith is a gift from God.
Jesus says it doesn’t take much faith to do great things. The tiniest amount of faith can plant a tree in the ocean or move a mountain from one place to another. In Matthew’s version, it sounds like Jesus is chiding the disciples for having so little faith, but here in Luke, we get a little different slant.
Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples how to get more faith. He doesn’t give the disciples a discipleship plan or assign them each a faith journey partner. Jesus says, “It doesn’t take much faith to do what you need to do.” In other words, “You have plenty right now.” You have enough faith. It doesn’t take much. God has already given you all the faith you need.
Have you ever noticed how Jesus often manages to avoid answering questions that are put to him, by answering a different question altogether? Wouldn’t it be great, on those days when you feel like you need a little more faith (Luke 17:5: “Increase our faith!”), to have the instruction manual right there in front of you? But instead of answering the question, Jesus goes off on some tangent that doesn’t even seem related to the current topic of discussion! Jesus does this so often throughout the gospels. This passage is just one more example of Jesus telling the disciples they are asking the wrong question.
Instead of asking for more faith, or bigger faith, the disciples should have been finding opportunities to act on the faith they already had. They needed to be living into the faith they’d already been given. To show the disciples how they’d gotten it backwards, Jesus tells a parable. And to understand the parable, we need first to understand what slavery meant to the disciples who heard the story.
Up to this point in the story, Jesus has had his listeners identifying with the master of the house. Suddenly, he changes the viewpoint of his listeners to that of the slave. “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” In other words, being faithful and obedient to God doesn’t make God owe us anything. It’s what we are supposed to do. We need to be more faithful, serving with no expectation of praise or recognition, in true humility. Our obedience is by no means a way to gain honour, and good works aren’t something we do in order to receive a reward. We obey and serve because Christ calls us to follow him in obedient service. He gives us plenty of faith to do this, but it’s up to us to be faithful followers.
Not only does he switch us from ‘master’ viewpoint to ‘servant’ viewpoint, asking us to identify with the humble servant who does what he’s asked to do without expecting any special reward, Jesus also makes an even bigger shift. We are reminded that we can be believers in isolation, but to become true and faithful disciples, we must live out our faith in community.
Faith depends on this idea of community, because, when you get right down to it, faith is bigger than believing. Faith is trust, and trust requires relationship. As we put our trust in Jesus, we give up any illusions of depending on ourselves and we recognize that faith cannot be measured; it can only be lived.
We don’t need more faith; we need to be faithful. And it’s also possible that we need a different kind of faith. Maybe what we need is the kind of faith that, like mustard seed, spreads contagiously wherever it is dropped, grows persistently, and cannot be easily destroyed. Maybe what we need is the kind of faith that is willing to enter the process of Christian character formation with humility, spiritual discipline, and patient trust. When we understand that faith is trusting God, we can begin to live out that trust through discipline and humility, becoming true servants of God who do the work God gives us to do.
The question is not how much faith we have but rather, how are we liking the faith we do have? How is our faith – our relationship with Jesus – changing our lives and the lives of others ? If it is not, more of the same will surely make no difference.
The mustard seed of faith is already planted within us. It is Christ himself. He has withheld nothing from us. We already have enough. We do not need more faith. We need more response to the faith, the Christ, the mustard seed, the relationship we already have.