Faith As Small As A Mustard
Luke 17: 5 — 10
Jesus is now talking to his close circle of disciples - the
The section Verses 1 — 10 comprises 4 sayings, i.e. Verses 1
and 2, 3 and 4, 5 and 6, 7 — 10.
The Jerome Commentary tells us: "It is difficult to
locate any catchword or motif that unites the three (or four) sayings and the
parable of this section, unless it be the common themes stretching throughout
- God's concern for the lowly
- Faith in the hidden presence of the kingdom and
- Man's need for redemption.
Some are like proverbs — short pithy sayings which contain
their own meaning. They are remnants of the early Church's "verbal
catechism", and St Luke has taken them and made a unique lesson.
- In Verses 1 and 2 Jesus said that in the fellowship of
believers, disciples are to be responsibly considerate of one another. If
not — it would be better if a millstone were fixed around their neck and
they were thrown into the sea!
- In Verses 3 and 4 Jesus declares very dramatically that
if someone sins against you: you must still show consideration for that
person — first by correctly rebuking them, then by forgiving
as many times as it is necessary!
We move on now to this week's reading.
Some Notes On Our Text
Verses 5 and 6
listening attentively to our Lord as he gave them some pretty heavy material to
take in it's no wonder "the Apostles said to the Lord: "Increase our
faith." In other words: "How can we hope to do all this without a gift
of extra faith?"
We note that here we have the terms "Apostles" and
"the Lord". Luke clearly has in mind not only Jesus and his immediate
followers but also the risen Lord of the Church and the Apostles as leaders of
that Church. In verse 5 they are feeling the burden, the heavy burden of that
leadership. (Craddock on Luke)
Our Lord gives a most assuring response: "If you have faith as small as a
mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the
sea,' and it will obey you."
Craddock helps us "unpack" this immensely rich
The Greek language has basically two types of
"if" clauses: those which express a condition contrary to the fact
("if I were you") and those which express a condition according to
fact ("if Jesus is our Lord"). The conditional clause in verse 6
is of this second type; one could translate it "If you had faith [and
you do]. " Jesus' response, then, is not a reprimand for an
absence of faith but an affirmation of the faith they have and an
invitation to live out the full possibilities of that faith. Even the small
faith they already have cancels out words such as "impossible" (a
tree being uprooted) and "absurd" (planting a tree in the sea) and
puts them in touch with the power of God. That Luke has "sycamine tree'
(a kind of mulberry) instead of "mountain" as in Matthew and Mark
in no way alters the message: faith lays hold of God with whom nothing is
impossible, and it is God who empowers the life of discipleship.
So Jesus is saying: "What you need is not more faith,
but the right kind of faith — faith which is prepared to unfold, grow, and reach
its full potential". Notice, with this "right faith" you can work
wonders by a word.
Stuhlmueller adds a helpful perspective to this explanation.
He writes in his commentary on Luke:
When the Apostles asked for faith to perform wonders,
Jesus replied that the kind of faith which would usher in the messianic age
was the humble interior spirit of accepting God's Word (symbolised by
the mustard seed). With this faith the universe "would have already
obeyed you" in a wondrous way, as the last part of verse 6 should be
We are compelled yet again to draw attention to our Lord's
frequent emphasis on the importance of accepting, valuing, nurturing, dwelling
on, and beholding God's Word within us. That is a necessary prerequisite before
any task in his Kingdom can be accomplished. Later, of course, he would give
himself for us as our communion with the Word (the Last Supper).
Verses 7 and 10
then outlines a short parable from which we list some key points:
- There is a warning to Church leaders that they can never
stop and rest in the belief they have worked enough. Luke emphasises total
- The world's idea of success is to lord it over others.
Jesus' way is the reverse: servant based.
- They wanted faith that would blow away all uncertainty
and doubt. Jesus insists they start with the faith they have and let
the power of God unfold!
- There is no place or time at which the disciple
can say — "I have completed my service - now I want to be served for
Cox, in The Gospel Story, sums it up:
This parable is probably only a fragment of an instruction on
the danger of pride, arising from their power to work great miracles, and the
conversions they will make in their future labours. It is based on the state of
slavery then common in Palestine. They must not think of themselves as great
rabbis, like some of the Pharisees; they must humbly serve like slaves.
- Leaders need to remember that they are the servants of
the servants of God.
- All members of God's household need to remember
that they come under the same instructions.
- Jesus was yet to drive home with absolute force the
lesson that they must serve as he had come to serve.
With them we can ask the Lord "Let our faith