6 October 2019

Luke 17:5-10

‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed …’ (v. 6)

Psalm: Psalm 37:1-9


When responding to their plea for more faith, Jesus tells his disciples that size isn’t important. The Greek word for faith, pistis, can be translated as ‘confidence’, 'trust’ or ‘commitment’. But what is Jesus saying? Mulberry trees simply don’t uproot themselves normally – whether that’s to replant themselves in the sea or elsewhere.

So is Jesus suggesting that because they don’t, his disciples’ faith is even smaller than a mustard seed, or even absent? Or, on the other hand, is he encouraging them not to worry about the smallness of their faith because of what’s possible with the tiniest amount? Jesus’ answer, it seems, is mixed. As is the story of the disciples.

The disciples’ story so far is full of faith – as trust, commitment. They have left homes and jobs and families in order to follow Jesus. They have met hostility from many who oppose Jesus (Luke 11:53; 13:31; 16:14). But they have stayed, even for this final journey toward Jerusalem, and with the warnings of what’s to come (Luke 9:22).

But their faith has also been questioned: “Where is your faith?” Jesus asks, after he calms the storm (Luke 8:25). Later, he chides their lack of trust: “If God clothes the grass ... how much more will [God] clothe you – you of little faith!” (Luke 12:28)

Perhaps this is the point: the story is always mixed for disciples, now as then. But, now as then, it is also possible to see even mustard-seed-sized glimpses of what faith makes possible in many forms, and from many kinds of people.

Faith is persisting in reaching out to Jesus (Luke 5:17-26) and trusting in his power and authority (7:1-10). Faith can be responding with love to forgiveness (7:44-50), not letting fear take over (8:22-25) and being willing to risk challenging the way thing are (8:43-48). Faith is praising God (17:11-19), trusting in God’s will for justice (18:1-8), and just asking for what we need (18:35-43). All as small, at times, as a mustard seed, yet as astonishing as if a mulberry tree were to uproot itself and be planted in the sea …


To Ponder:

  • If you were asked to come up with another word for what you understand ‘faith’ to be, what would you say, and why?
  • Have you seen an example of faith recently – perhaps in a surprising setting or person?

Bible notes author

The Revd Carole Irwin

Carole is a presbyter in the Methodist Church. She has served in circuits in Folkestone and Bradford, and is currently Director of Studies at Wesley House, Cambridge.

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