The Mustard Seed [Luke 17: (1-4),5-10]
“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.”
“Increase our faith!” they cry. As if more is good; as if more is necessary. We live in a culture that craves more of everything. Yet, often we don’t know why we have such cravings. I suspect it is learned behavior, learned covetousness.
Side bar: the Tenth Commandment against coveting is the only commandment repeated twice. “Thou shalt not covet….thou shalt not covet.” Yet, we are told that our economy, our culture, our so-called “way of life” depends on coveting more and more stuff until we fill our houses, every room, every floor, until we need to pay for more storage space. We buy into the mythology of advertising that our very identity depends on having more stuff and just the right stuff. And look what happens when we have too much stuff: we put it in Self Storage – a place to store our excess self!
Now this story of the mustard seed would make a little more sense if the first four verses of this section of Luke had not been omitted – cut out – for some reason censored. Perhaps because they have to do with community or church discipline and behavior? All together this is about how to be the Body of Christ – how to be the church – how to live in community with others walking in the way of Jesus.
So Jesus first tells his disciples and apostles that they are responsible for the life of the community. Further, they are not to cause others to stumble in the way. The Greek word for stumble is skandalon, from which we get scandal. We are not to cause a scandal.We are to hold one another accountable for the life of the community, and when we fail at this we are to repent – say I am sorry – and everyone else’s job is to forgive so we can all continue to walk in the way of Jesus.
So we may deduce that the apostles ask for more faith because they are being tasked with a particularly difficult job – to maintain and nurture and be good examples by word and deed of what it means to be the Body of Christ. And who can blame them? After all back in chapter 12 and all over the four gospels Jesus is forever crying out in total exasperation, “O ye of little faith…you have such little faith…it’s because you have such little faith!” They have heard this over and over again. So they ask for more.
This is where it gets both funny and serious all at once. It is like the movie This Is Spinal Tap where the guitarist is pointing out that for most amplifiers the top volume is 10, but his goes to 11. “That’s one more,” he says. Of course this is ludicrous. It is hysterically funny for those of us who play music because the top volume is the top volume no matter what you call it. Call it 10, 11, 12 or 100, it is still just as far as the knob will turn and the volume will go.
After chiding them for such little faith suddenly Jesus ups the ante: You don’t need more faith. If you have just the teeny, tiniest bit of faith no bigger than a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds, you can do tremendous, miraculous things!
Seems there is no such thing as more or less faith. There is faith. Faith is all you need. You don’t need much to do the things Jesus does and calls us to do. He even says later [John 14] that after he is gone we will do the things he does and greater things than he ever did while walking amongst us! He turns the knob to 11 and leaves it there!
So we are to hold one another accountable in all of this. What else are we to be doing? Thank goodness for the Book of Common Prayer. Page 855 has some answers for us. It says our mission is to restore all people to unity with God and each other. It says we are to represent Christ and his Church – we are to be ambassadors for Christ. We are to bear witness to him wherever we may be. And according to the gifts given to us, we are to carry on his work of reconciliation in the world. After all of that, in our spare time, we are to take our place in the life, worship and governance of the Church. And finally, to work, pray and give for the spread of the kingdom of God.
We can see why the apostles might ask for more faith. But Jesus assures us, we have to do no more than according to the gifts we have been given. This ought to be freeing, for it says we have all been given gifts – and St. Paul is clear in saying that we all are given different gifts all of which are necessary for the life of God’s kingdom. As it usually turns out I have gifts that you need, and you have gifts that I need. The giving and sharing of these gifts is what life is all about.
The really good news is that no one is expected to do any more than she or he has already been gifted to do. I am sure that this also means we are expected to do no less than what we have been gifted to do. And evidently we are all given enough faith since all we need is a mustard seed’s worth of faith to do mighty things like pulling up Mulberry Trees and planting them in the sea. Not sure why one would want to do that, so I assume it is a bit of hyperbole and metaphor all rolled into one suggesting that with all this giving and sharing of gifts there is just nothing we cannot do since we are those people who will do greater things than Jesus!
Just thinking about that makes it tempting to ask for more faith. But the kingdom is not about more, not about coveting. It is about cooperation. It is about interdependence. It is about loving God and loving neighbor as we love ourselves. The faith volume is set at 11 no matter how small or tiny it feels. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can take trees and plant them in the sea. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, the lame will walk and the blind will see. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, wars will cease with the end of greed. If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, as you follow Christ you will begin to lead. If you only have faith as small as a mustard seed. As small as a mustard seed.