Just before I went away for this weekend, a very tall parcel arrived at our house. My husband and I had been told to expect a large gift from our daughter for our wedding anniversary. It proved to be a lovely tree, a rowan, about 2.5 metres tall. We hadn’t time to do more than unpack it and put it in the conservatory before we left on our trip. When we returned it was still standing where we had placed it, as you might expect. The challenge now is to find a place to put it in the garden. One thing I know I will not be able to do is to command the tree to move and plant itself. I have faith but it’s not for doing conjuring tricks with trees or anything else.
The issue of moving trees comes up in today’s Gospel reading but I don’t think Jesus actually intended his disciples to go around commanding trees in their surroundings to be uprooted. The disciples had asked for something important: more faith. Jesus was on his final trip to Jerusalem. Perhaps the disciples sensed something of what was to come and felt inadequate. They knew they needed help to face what was to come, perhaps even just to live life in the way that Jesus’ teaching indicated.
As we know, Jesus often turned things on their head. The disciples asked for more faith and Jesus pointed to the tiniest measure of faith: a mustard seed. It was not quantity that mattered but quality. A mustard seed may be tiny but contains the potential of life. As we know from one of Jesus’ parables, it can grow into a plant big enough for birds to nest in. Likewise, if the faith of the disciples was a living thing, however small, it had within it the potential to grow and develop over time until it was capable of great deeds or even apparently impossible deeds.
Being given an instant gift of huge faith might very easily have given the disciples a sense of pride which would not be good for them. The same is true for us. It is far better to give the tiniest bit of faith time to develop and grow. It’s important that the object of our faith is God, that we trust in him and obey him as this is a way for our faith to grow. Jesus points to the need to humbly serve God and not expect thanks, just as a slave would serve his master. It’s a service of small things rather than great deeds, the ordinary rather than the extraordinary.
When Paul was writing to Timothy he commended him for his faith, a faith that had been modelled by his mother and grandmother. Paul was suffering for his faith at the time of writing and knew that Timothy’s faith would be tested. He urged Timothy to remember what God had given him and to hold on to what he believed in. Once again, it was serving God in small, fairly ordinary things consistently day after day which was what was needed for Timothy to develop a strong faith.
The Psalmist also urges people to have faith or trust in God and recommends service to him in fairly ordinary things: do good, deal justly, don’t envy the evil folk who seem to succeed in life, don’t get angry, delight in God and wait for him to sort things out.
The disciples saw that challenges lay ahead of them and wanted more faith in order to deal with it. Jesus knew that the way to deal with what was coming was to give faith time to grow and develop in the ordinary things of every day. In that way it would become big enough to deal with anything that came along. When we look at the lives of the disciples, their faith often seemed to waver but in the end we know that they had great courage and with the help of the Holy Spirit they turned the world upside down.
What we also see in the disciples over time is that they lost their pride. Even up to the evening of the Last Supper there was bickering among them about who was the greatest but later they became servants of the Gospel, working and suffering without any expectation of special favours or great positions in life. For us also, our faith is not a source of pride but a reason to serve. Our service is not something special but something normal and expected. Our aim is to be able to say from the heart:
“We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!”
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor