The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 17th Chapter
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.
"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 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!' "
How big is your faith? Is it the size of the biggest seed, a 90 pound Sea Coconut? I suppose if you have faith that big you could move a Giant Redwood! Or is your faith more like the rain forest orchid seed, the smallest seed, which weighs only 1/35,000,000th of an ounce! With that amount of faith you might only be able to uproot a very young radish.
I’m not sure what size the disciples’ faith was, but it was clearly smaller than Mustard Seed sized. We know that, because they couldn’t tell a Mulberry Tree to hike up it’s tree skirt and march down and plant itself in the ocean. Oh, those wacky disciples! It’s fun to laugh at them isn’t it? After all, what kind of disciple doesn’t even have faith the size of a tiny Mustard Seed?! It’s fun to laugh… except, of course, when you ask yourself as a disciple… Have YOU ever spoken to a Mulberry tree and got it to jump up and plant itself in the ocean? I’ve pushed an old log out into a river before… but I don’t think that counts.
So how big is your faith? Is there any way to really know? If you can uproot a turnip by talking to it, does that mean you have more faith than someone only able to uproot a radish? Can you even uproot a tiny radish by talking to it with your faith? It all sounds pretty silly and I think that was Jesus’ point. By using this crazy image of uprooting trees and planting them in oceans… and by comparing faith to the size of something small that people buy and sell in a market, he was trying to tell us… FAITH ISN’T LIKE A SEED! Faith isn’t a commodity. It’s not something you can order up by the pound or the gallon.
The disciples thought they needed to be filled up with faith in order to do what Jesus was calling them to do, but Jesus let them know that you don’t get faith the same way you get mustard seeds, cumin seeds or beans in the market. Faith isn’t a commodity.
But if it’s not a commodity… what is it? Lots of folks think that faith is getting something right up here… in their heads… being filled with knowledge... believing that something is true even though it's unprovable or unbelievable. But that’s not faith as Jesus knew it. Faith isn’t being filled with the ability to believe the unbelievable. Faith is a way of being. Faith is being faith-full. Being loyal and following God's leading in our day by day walking and living in the world lives. Faith is a trust that God's way of living is so right that you don't have any fears or anxiety about where you're headed. It's seeing yourself, the people around you and all of creation through God’s eyes and living life out of that vision.
Because Jesus knew what real faith was, Jesus let the disciples know that thinking they needed to be filled up with faith BEFORE they went out to do God’s work in the world didn’t make any sense. To show this even more, Jesus tells a story that reverses the roles of a master and a servant. Just like the master serving the servant is backwards, so is their idea that they needed to be filled up with faith before following Christ out into the world.
It’s like wanting to play the guitar and believing that as soon as the spirit of Les Paul comes and fills me up with “talent”… THEN I’ll be able to play the guitar! But that’s not the way it works, is it? If I really wanted to play the guitar... if I really want “talent”… what’s the only way to get it? Yeah! I’ve got to go PLAY the guitar... a LOT!
Jesus is telling us that if we want to be faith-FULL, if we want to have lives filled with peace, contentment and purpose… if we want to have lives radically centered in God, the way to do that is to start living our lives peacefully, contentedly and purposefully! In short, if we want to be full of faith, the way to do that is to go out there and start playing our lives faith-FULL-y... a LOT!
But what if we don't play life perfectly… what if we don’t do it right? Well, WHEN that happens… not IF but WHEN… remember the disciples. Jesus wasn’t looking for the perfect or doctrinally correct or ideologically pure in his disciples... he was looking for them to FOLLOW HIM, just to simply put one foot in front of the other one day after another. He didn’t care if they walked that walk perfectly or horribly, beautifully or tripping on everything… it doesn’t matter HOW you walk the Jesus walk, only that you're walking.
So don’t wait to be filled up with faith. Do what you can to live faithfully NOW and you’ll find that you are filled. Fill the hungry with good things NOW and you will find yourself filled. Fill the lonely with companionship NOW and you will find yourself filled. Fill the forgotten with a sense of worth NOW and you will find yourself filled. Go and live faithfully... one step at a time… one moment at a time walking the Jesus walk with all your most spectacular falls, fumbles, flaws, faults and faux pas. And in that walking you will find faith's been in you all along. Amen.