Luke 17:5-10 NRSV
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 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.
7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
I love when Jesus talks to his disciples. It is always so refreshingly human. I like to picture myself as one of them and ask, ‘Would I say that?’. The Gospel writers so often paint the disciples as a group of loveable side kicks who are consistently slower on the uptake and forever confusing themselves so, I’d rather the answer was no. A personal favourite of mine is when, earlier in this chapter, Jesus is warning them against the ‘yeast’ of the religious leaders and the disciples somehow concluded that Jesus had a craving for bread. My point being, we often give them a hard time. But in this passage I find myself on the other side. I wonder if Jesus came to me and called me away from my family, my job and my community, whether I would ask Him to increase my faith. I wonder, if I was in this story, would I be standing, pretending not to listen as my brothers asked this of Jesus? Honestly, I wouldn’t have wanted Jesus' answer.
Growing up in church world I feel my years could be summed up as the Christian Guilt Cycle (or CGC™ for short). I would go to an amazing Christian camp where older people I looked up to would tell me all I could accomplish with God if only I obeyed him. I would go back to school and be pumped up for some next level obedience. Time would pass and my energy would wain. I found it hard. Kids were mean, the Bible was difficult and prayer felt distant. Then the guilt would kick in as I stopped reading my Bible. Eventually, even the guilt would fade, until I went to another camp. Sound familiar?
Now, as adults, it can look different. Perhaps we can be overly cynical of anyone expressing a passion for their faith. Or be guilty of dismissing people who challenge us. Often, when people suggest our faith can be more than the limitations we put on it, we resist. But Jesus hasn’t put limitations on the impact our faith can have on our lives and on our world, we have. Jesus doesn’t give a list of things he can help us with and a list of things he can’t.
I want to be the disciple who asks Jesus to increase their faith. I want to be the Christian who doesn’t resist challenge. I want to be a person who isn’t afraid to pray about anything. But I don’t think this change comes from a camp, or a conference, or from one particular sermon. I think this change is cultivated through obedience and servanthood. That’s not to say that we should mindlessly obey. That seems backward to me. I think we should recognise that through God’s grace, his real and tangible grace, we can do life with Him. From that truth we can willingly move into a collaborative way of living with God. Through that, a sense of duty and obedience forms as we discern God’s will for us, our homes and our world.
To be the disciple in this reading, a change in inner narrative is necessary. I am no longer a kid who comes home from camp and falls for the lie that the Christian life is a terrifying tightrope walk towards grace. It’s through obedience that we receive grace. Grace is the source from which our obedience flows. Grace is not our destination. It’s our beginning. It’s through this grace that God transforms me and my lifestyle and calls me deeper into His story — as both a son and a servant.
Dave started studying Applied Theology at the Irish Bible Institute this September and works part time for Holy Trinity Rathmines as their ‘Social Media Coordinator and Young Adults Associate’. He was recently recruited as an ‘Area Youth Coordinator’ for the Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough, a new role that he is really looking forward to. Dave is both a rugby and music enthusiast but has yet to find someone willing to pay him to do either.