5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6The 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.
7Who 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’? 8Would 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’? 9Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10So 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!’”
Increase our faith!
Increase our pocketbooks!
Increase our lust!
Increase our increases!
We pray all of this
Ignorant that you are enough
So decrease our desire for increase
(A variation of this tale was told by Peter Rollins at a conference held at Mars Hill Church in Michigan)
There was a man one day who went out hunting.
And it was a good day for shooting. He was blasting away at the air from his little cover, getting duck after duck after duck.
So many ducks, in fact, that he was beginning to hit his limit to be able to carry home.
And yet he wanted more.
And as he began to haul his trophies back to his car, he caught sight of one more flying V. And as he dropped his carry, he lifted the gun into the air and shot one last time: blast, blast, blast!
And the duck fell into the next field.
Now, carrying all of these trophies home would prove difficult, but he wanted that last duck, that last bit. He couldn’t be without it! He had to have one more.
So he walked through the clearing, to the wood break, and began into the next clearing where he thought the duck had fallen.
And there in that clearing was a man working on a tractor, and his name was Seamus. Now Seamus wasn’t a fool, and didn’t take lightly to people walking on his property. So when he saw this man coming through the wood break onto his clearing he called and said, “Ho there! You can’t come here; this is private property.”
The hunter said, “But my trophy is right over there! I shot it, I deserve it, it’s mind.”
Seamus replied, “I’ve heard you hunting all morning. You’ve shot plenty today, and I’m quite certain that you have plenty. Perhaps that can be saved for someone else’s table tonight?”
The hunter became indignant, “It is mine! I need it to complete my set!”
Seamus spied him suspiciously and said, “OK. How about we make a deal? In these parts we have a gentleman’s deal that can help us solve this problem. It’s called ‘Three Kicks.’ I’ll kick you three times, and then you get to kick me three times, and whoever gives up first gets their way. If I give up, you get your duck. If you give up, you must leave.”
The hunter, young and strapping, looked at older feeble Seamus and said, “Deal.”
So Seamus began the blows. First one went square between the legs, and the hunter fell to his knees crosseyed. He almost gave up just then, but kept thinking, “I get to go soon! Soon he’ll get his.”
The next kick went square through his back, and the hunter fell face first in terrible pain. “Soon,” he kept thinking. “I can get him back soon.”
The third kick went square to the ribs and the hunter yelped in pain…but now relieved he could deliver his kicks. He surely wasn’t going to give up!
And as he slowly brought himself up to his feet, still in agony, Seamus looked him square in the eye and said, “Ok, you win. You can have your duck.”
And he went back to his tractor.
We must always be on the lookout for when the desire for more becomes greed. Likewise, we must always be on the lookout for when the expressed need for more just becomes an excuse not to start something.
We must be on the lookout because we have been taught and socialized to believe the more and bigger are better. And sometimes more is necessary. A home that is too small for the occupants must expand. A budget that no longer meets necessary expenses must grow.
But the desire for more just to have more will leave us beat up. Kicked around spiritually, if not also in many other ways.
When will we learn that having more for the sake of having more will simply leave us beat up in the end because it’s a fight that we can never win? Once we start down the road past necessity, it never ends.
And, unfortunately, we’ve learned to commodify faith in this way as well. Faith is now something we need more of…as it was for the disciples.
Today the disciples ask Jesus to “increase (their) faith.”
They seem to have bought into the idea that more is better, that faith is something you can have more or less of.
I’ve heard that, too. So have you.
“I need more faith…” some will say.
Or, “You must have more faith!” they’ll tell us when we’re faced with some impossibility that we can’t see a way out of or tragedy we can’t wrap our minds around.
And intellectually I think I understand what they’re saying.
But I want to state here and now that I do not think faith is something you can have more or less of. I don’t think we can commodify faith. Usually when people use the phrase, “I must have more faith,” they actually mean, “if I try really hard to believe this situation will end up a certain way, it will…”
That’s not faith. That’s wish fulfillment. When “increase our faith,” means, “help us to believe that what we want to happen will happen” we move past the necessity of faith down the rabbit hole of just getting beat up by disappointment.
Faith doesn’t work like that. It is not something you can have more or less of. It is not belief. Faith is trust. A way I look at it is: faith is something acted upon or not acted upon. Faith is something that we move on and trust or deny.
Even in my own life, even when I was a closet atheist, I found myself not totally without some sort of trust in something more than myself…I just found myself not acting upon it.
I guess you could call it the “doubt in my doubt.” I proclaimed there was no God…but I doubted that assertion as much as I doubted the one that said there was a God.
I just didn’t act on it.
Jesus says faith acted upon is like a mustard seed. Faith is of miniscule size, and yet can invade every part of life. You gardeners know this is true. Mustard weed invades every part of your garden. It entwines everything.
So it is with faith. Once acted upon, you see it as part of everything: how you buy food, where you buy food, how you buy clothes, where you buy clothes, how you treat your neighbor, where you move, where you work, how you work…
In fact, it can turn the powers of the world on its head!
Jesus asks the disciples, “Who of you, if you had a servant, would invite the servant to dine before you in the evening?”
The implied answer is “no one.” No one would do that because the relationship of servant to master is one where the master is served first, and then the servant.
But, Jesus says, faith is invasive enough that it can overturn the powers of the world. It can tell the mulberry tree to be planted in the sea, defying nature.
Could it also, then, not defy the social relationships that define human interaction? Could faith not also say to the servant, “Dine before me…”?
We may not think of that as such a big deal, but the civil rights movement seemed, at many times, to be asking a mulberry tree to plant itself in the ocean: an impossible task.
We may not think of that as such a big deal, but the women’s suffrage movement seemed, at many times, to be asking a mulberry tree to plant itself in the ocean: an impossible task.
We may not think of that as such a big deal, but the emancipation movement seemed, at many times, to be asking a mulberry tree to plan itself in the ocean: an impossible task.
See, the disciples say, “Increase our faith!” and Jesus says, “How many of you would invite your servant to dine before you?”
If the answer is, “none of us would,” then, well, you don’t need an increase in faith…you need to act on the faith you have!
Because faith is the trust in the Divine that disrupts every other sort of order that tries to lay claim to the world, and to our lives. It disrupts order so that seemingly impossible things get done for the sake of God’s rightly ordered love.
Faith is the kind of trust that allows you to give generously to charity and not worry that you will have to live on less because the rule of money, the rule of more, doesn’t control your life.
People say they need more money. Mostly, though, we must simply act on what we have. Because once you start seeking after money for money’s sake, it’ll leave you beat up.
Faith is the kind of trust that allows you to stand with person who is being persecuted and not worry about the persecution that might come your way because of your stance because the rule of popularity, the rule of being “liked” above everything else, doesn’t control your life.
People say they need more courage. No. You must simply act on the courage you have. Because once you use this as an excuse, your guilt for not having acted in courage will leave you beat up.
Faith is the kind of trust that allows you to stare unblinkingly into your future without anxiety because you know that whether you’re in the heavens of bliss or the hells of despair, God is with you, and the rule of anxiety and fear that cripples so many people in this world, doesn’t control your life.
People say they need more faith. No. You must simply act on the faith you have. Because once you start trying to have wish fulfillment rather than trust that, come hell or high water, you are OK because you are with God, it’ll leave you beat up in disappointment.
Our need for more past what is necessary leaves us kicked, and kicked where it hurts. It hurts our relationships, it hurts our wholeness, it hurts our spiritual lives.
We don’t need more, we need less. We need less of our desire for more. We need to see that God in Christ has provided all that we need in this world, all that we need to live, including all the faith we need to act.
Because when we give of our wealth, we stand with the Christ who gave of himself. When we stand with the poor and afflicted and the unpopular, we stand with the Christ who hung on the cross of popular opinion. When we stand unflinchingly facing the future, we stand with the Christ who faced death and rose from the tomb.
And from that position, could we really ever desire more?
People of God, our faith is not one of more and better, it is a faith of less and least. As Jesus said, “When you serve the least of humanity, you serve me.”
May our cry not be, “Increase our faith!” May it be, “Decrease our need for increase!”
Lest we get kicked around more in a life where we already have all that we need.