Increase Our Faith

    Increase our Faith

    In Luke 17, the apostles approach Jesus and say, “Increase our faith.” It’s not an unusual statement from disciples to their Rabbi. The Lord responds with the famous words, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.” 

    Jesus’ words seem to give a lot of power to the person with only a very small amount of faith. That person would be able to command the tree and not just ask God to do it. It is almost frightening to think that one person could have this kind of power. In another gospel, Jesus talks of the ability to move mountains with faith like a mustard seed. This kind of power could easily result in wildly random acts and considerable pride. 

    It is easy to stop reading there thinking that Jesus has completed his response to the apostles’ statement but Jesus continues with a less famous parable, sometimes called, the dutiful servant. Jesus says, 

    “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘come immediately and sit down to eat’? But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”

    Note first of all that the parable is made up of three questions and a concluding statement. Each question draws the listener in to the story. 

    After the first question, we are made to feel that we might be the slave owners, although it is hard to imagine that the apostles would be slave owners. By the second and third questions, the slave owner and slave are described in third person. At this point, we may be wondering about the lack of concern that the slave owner demonstrates to the slave; I’d like to think that I would be a more considerate slave owner. However, by the concluding statement, we are clearly meant to be identifying with the slave (“So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you…”).

    But notice that by the final statement, there is no single slave. By the final statement, the single slave has lost his individual identity within the larger group of slaves. What the single slave has done is only a small part of what all the slaves are doing. And the significance of what all the slaves are doing is only a part of what the slave owner wants done. 

    “We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.”

    The parable values two qualities. One is humility. The slaves cannot take credit for what they have done with the Slave Owners’ direction, authority and materials. The other is obedience. The slaves are only obeying what the Slave Owner has commanded. As a result, the slaves can take no credit for what they did.

    When the apostles words, the description of faith as a mustard seed and the parable of the dutiful servant are all taken as a whole, is Jesus’ message that our faith can increase “like a mustard seed” when we demonstrate humble, obedient service to Him? Humble obedience would certainly impact whatever we do with even a mustard seed of faith.

    [Luke 17:5-10; Matthew 17:20 NASB]

    Garry D

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