Why Having “More Faith” Just Doesn’t Make Any Sort of Sense
I’m working on Sunday’s sermon on Luke version of the mustard seed. You can read the lesson here.
The disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith.
I hate it when people tell me that they need “more faith,” so it makes me happy that Jesus just shoots down their question.
The need for more and bigger and better is somehow embedded in our DNA…and it’s a flaw, I think.
It’s a mutation.
It’s a lie we believe about ourselves.
Sure, there’s something to be said for having motivation; I won’t deny that.
But when does motivation become greed? And when does the perception that more is needed become just an excuse for inaction?
The Gospel of Luke has this reading of the mustard seed butted up against this other reading about a servant who does their work faithfully. I don’t know if these two were said back to back by Jesus…Luke’s editor could have just put them together (the editors of the Bible did that, you know).
For some reason they are back to back in this Sunday’s reading (oh, and if you haven’t read it yet, please click on the above…you won’t get what I’m trying to say without it).
See, I think there are a couple ways you can read these little parabolic sayings back to back, but I want to highlight just one.
I think maybe Jesus is being snarky. He has this whole discussion about how a mustard seed and a mulberry tree (arguably the most annoying plants in the world because they just won’t go away…ever) and how faith can be that tenacious, and then asks this question:
“Who of you who have servants every say to them after a hard day of work, ‘Come and sit at the table. Eat. Drink. Then finish your duties toward me?’”
I think it’s snarky because…well…none of them would say that. You ask your servant to finish their duties first, then they can eat. Work first; play and relax later. It’s the way of the world.
No one would invite their servant to eat before finishing up their work.
But should they?
I think we read this and think that Jesus is saying, “No one would say that, and why would you? You ask them to do their work because that’s the order of things. Then they can eat, and at the end they will reply with the answer all servants who have done their duty use, ‘I am a worthless servant, just doing my work.’”
Now, don’t get hung up on the word “worthless” there. We use that negatively these days, but in fact the actual Greek there lends itself to an understanding of “one to whom nothing is owed.” So, in effect, Jesus is actually saying, “You owe me nothing; I am just doing my job.”
In fact, perhaps preachers would do well to gently amend that statement so that people could hear it better on Sunday morning.
But, see, I’m not sure Jesus is trying to reinforce that servants shouldn’t be invited to the table. Maybe he’s actually being snarky and, as one person in our text study noted, subversive.
Perhaps he’s shaming the disciples a bit.
They say, “Increase our faith!” and he says, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you can do great things. You can overturn order (like uproot a mulberry tree). You can even invite a slave to eat at your table before you eat yourself because faith doesn’t allow for the kind of subjugation that master/slave dichotomies allow. Faith is trust. And you can trust them enough to do their work after dinner…and they think nothing is owed them, and yet, everything is owed them. Faith sees that and acts on it. You want more faith?! You don’t act on the faith you have…”
That, I think, is the crux of it for me. We think we need more of things, when in fact we just need to act on what we have. Faith is not something you have more or less of, it just is. And you act on it…or you don’t act on it. Like trust.
Faith is trust. It’s not a mental assent to tenets…Christianity has never been about mental assents no matter how hard it’s tried to give that impression.
You want more faith? Work on the faith you have. You’ll see expansion. Like a mustard seed that grows into an invasive weed. It’ll be so invasive that you won’t be able to not invite someone who serves you to sit down and eat first. They are not worthless in the eyes of faith.
Faith acted upon is absolutely invasive. Trust me, you don’t need more of it…it’ll overtake the way you see everything. Like what and how you purchase, like how you treat everyone, like how you eat, like how you confront someone you argue with…
Faith is like a mustard seed because it becomes inconvenient in a world where “more and bigger” is thought to be “better.”