6 October 2013

Luke 17:5-10

“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.”’” (vv. 5-6)


It was a great summer of sport - if you are British. No longer following our national teams and heroes with our hearts in mouths, we can turn on the tennis or the cricket or the Tour de France with high expectations that our athletes will do well. As Britons we have shown ourselves that we can do it - the obstacles in our minds have been replaced by a new found faith - we can win international contracts; we can welcome foreigners to Britain; we can trust our athletes to perform.

Is this the attitude that Jesus commends to his followers? They ask him, 'Lord, add to our faith' (verse 5). His answer seems to be of no help - in fact he seems to tell them off for not having enough faith: If you had faith as small as a mustard seed you would have the authority to make the most unlikely things happen (verse 6).

For Luke's Gospel the point of this collection of sayings seems to be made explicit at verses 20-21: "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed … for, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you". In other words: stop fretting about having faith, and act in faith instead: run like you believe you can win; live like you believe poverty should be history; report trolls as if gender justice was about to dawn; let go your resentments as if forgiveness were the final reality.

Verses 7-10 reinforce the point. From our context we find it difficult to read references to slaves in Scripture without raising important questions about human dignity. For Jesus though, the point is that even slaves don't need telling what to do. In the same way, the disciples of Jesus should stop hanging about waiting to be told to get on with the obvious tasks of being the household of God - instead (as Luke's Gospel has already made clear) we should use our resources to deal with poverty (Luke 16:19-31), to take our personal relationships seriously (Luke 16:18), and to let our resentments go (Luke 17:1-4).

To Ponder

  • What do you think Jesus and his disciples are talking about in verses 5-6 - faith in God or faith that things can be different? Why?
  • As you read Luke's Gospel, what picture of God's kingdom do you get in your mind? And how might you enact it in your daily life?
  • Jesus seems to imply that fretting about having faith does not increase it, but acting in faith produces results. How has acting in faith affected your faith?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Jane Leach

Jane writes on ministry, pastoral supervision and pilgrimage..