“Increase our faith!” This is what the Disciples ask of Jesus today, which at first always seems like a noble and natural thing for which to ask.
Jesus has just laid out in a series of rather difficult and challenging parables and teachings what it is that a follower of Jesus, one who is looking for the Kingdom of God will have to do, what will be required of them – required of us.
The list can be a little daunting.
The Kingdom is to be a place where the lost are sought out, found and welcomed back. You are to be a part of that work.
It is to be a place where forgiveness is offered to those who repent, not just a few times, or seven times, but seventy times seven.
The Kingdom will involve coming to terms with difficult relationships. It will involve resolving differences with estranged siblings, remembering and acting on the part of those who suffer at our own gate, figuring out what to do with the shrewd and difficult people in this world.
The Kingdom is a place where costs are to be counted, and ventures considered before entering into them, and where you may be called upon to lose your own life in order to save it.
It is no wonder upon hearing the challenges and the demands that the disciples decided they might need a little “booster” here.
This is going to take more than we think we have on reserve, Jesus! Increase our faith! Give us “more.”
But Jesus’ response to that request is not what we might expect. He is almost scolding in his tone!
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed….” He says, and we hear that as a kind of put down, like we don’t even have THAT much faith because we’re sure not uprooting any trees in our lives!
Why is it that Jesus seems so short, when he knows the task is huge?
Why all this talk of servants and only doing what is expected? What we are commanded?
I think I know why. It has to do with our insecurity about following. Insecurity is quite often behind the need to feel like we need “more” in life, is it not?
The disciples are insecure! They’re not really sure they are up to this task, and so they are looking for something to give them a little confidence.
If we’re honest, we would agree. We could use a little more too, Jesus, of the stuff that makes following you possible.
Think back in your own life, to places where you wished you argued you had to have “more” of something.
Maybe it was back in the days of swimming lessons, when you were first supposed to jump off the diving board.
Jumping off the board into the “deep end” was the culmination of the swimming lessons when I took them. Before you ever got on that board you had to prove that you could float, that you could swim, and that you could tread water when you felt panicked. By the time the instructor said you could go out on the diving board you had everything you needed for this last test.
Really, this last test was not about convincing the instructor so much. It was about convincing yourself that you could had these things down.
But oh, once you got out on the end of that board and looked over the edge, there was suddenly a great need to have “more” wasn’t there?
“I just need a little more time.” People would protest. “I’m not ready for this.”
“I just want a little more practice in the shallow end.”
“Can I get a pool noodle to hang on to when I jump in? I just want a little extra flotation, just in case.”
The “more” you needed was not time, or flotation, it was the encouragement and relationship of those around you!
What you already had was sufficient for this moment. It was hearing the encouragement of your fellow swimmers, and seeing the nearness of the instructors that would finally convince you to finally step off into the moment.
Insecurity in your own abilities is what you were battling there, and the only way to overcome such insecurity, (the argument that you needed “more”) is to take the step, take the plunge, come up gasping and realizing you could do it! You did it!
Or maybe you experience insecurity in the realm of financial matters. We quite often ponder what is “enough” when we start thinking about retirement, or how much we should be saving, or making, or how much life insurance to carry, or how we should choose to invest our earnings.”
Insecurity or seeking some security underpins the whole way of thinking in the world of finance. The search for the better investment, the best reward for the risk, the need to lay up as much as possible in the event of the inevitable.
“I just need a little more in my savings” we tell ourselves, “and then I’ll feel secure.”
“I just need a little more in the way of interest.” We say, as we seek to grow that nest egg for the future.
“I just need a little more assurance that this product does what it promises it will do.”
The pursuit for “more” in the world of finance and savings is not really about what the magic “number” will be. It is more about what you are comfortable with and how that will work in relationship to others.
There are those you know who amass millions and billions and who never have enough. They never will have enough, because the “more” desire is a sucking drain. It will always consume whatever you pour into it if you view security as having enough for yourself.
There are however also those who have but modest savings and means whose life is abundant beyond measure in terms of happiness, contentment, and ability to share, because for them the issue of “more” to live on my own does not drive, but rather an attitude of “enough for now” is what they set their sights on. They see their financial picture in the context of relationships and that helps them turn their eyes to the other relationships around them.
We have “enough” to have a good Christmas, a good birthday, or a good meal.
We have “enough” to make the trip happen, the wedding work, and have the home provided over our heads.
Getting “more” does not give you security.
Sharing your life and what you have with those whom you love and who love you, that you can do in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health.
That is what brings you security, realizing that it’s not about what you can store up to call your own, but what you can share in common and having others to call upon for support in time of need.
This is why Jesus seems short with his disciples.
The request for “more” makes of faith a commodity, and it was never intended to be that.
Faith is a relationship.
Faith is not about how much you have, or don’t have, or don’t feel you have. It’s not about mustard seeds or mulberry trees or anything else that you can point to quantifiably. It’s not “stuff” or “a thing” you can accumulate.
Faith is about relationship, and who you put your trust in, and who walks with you.
Faith is about who you can look to when all these demands that come with following Jesus and bringing in the Kingdom of God start to get real.
Faith is about who you will share this awesome responsibility with when you start to feel the weight and responsibility of it all.
If you look at following Jesus or living in the Kingdom like it’s some kind of personal venture that you have to do on your own, you’re going to want “more” of something, because whatever you have “inside” of you just isn’t going to be enough.
So, where do you look when you feel that insecurity? You look to the community around you!
If it’s jumping off the diving board, you look to the community you have had lessons with. You look to your classmates as they urge you on.
You look to your instructor who reminds you that you can do this, and help is only a hand reach away.
You don’t need the pool noodle, the force of being submerged will rip it out of your hands anyway when you jump in and then you’ll just be distracting and flailing trying to grab for it, grasping for the wrong thing.
Jump and float, and trust that the one who invested all this time in helping you learn how to do what you are called and empowered to do will that is only an arm’s length away if and when you falter.
That’s the only way you’ll figure this out, see that you can do it, find the joy of swimming and splashing and diving and being free in the water!
That’s what Jesus is talking about when he starts to talk about the relationship of servant to master.
While slavery in the American incarnation of that wretched institution was always about exploitation, in Jesus day even slaves could own slaves. It was more about how the community was organized, how it functioned. There were ways out of servitude, and mobility in society, but in Jesus day servants and masters above all else understood their relationship to one another.
They knew that they had been put into positions of trust and authority in order to exercise their best abilities and work toward what they were capable and entrusted so to do.
We might wish that Jesus had picked another illustration, but when he says that the servant says, “we have only done what we ought to have done” he is saying that within the relationship of servant to master each understands the ability of the other, or you would not have been given that task, entrusted with it.
So then, when the task of following leads you to be insecure, remember who is with you and who does have confidence that you are ready for this, able to do this!
You aren’t allowed at the end of the diving board unless the instructor has confidence that you can do it.
You will never have “enough” if you think of money as a thing in and of itself to possess to make you feel secure, a quantity and not a currency.
There comes the time to step off the end, to say, “this is sufficient, and I trust in those around me, trust in the God who has been preparing me for the work in the Kingdom and to live there since I was first baptized.
You really don’t need to get “more” faith.
You need to step in faith into life that surrounds you and experience what it is to swim in the waters of Grace.