Habakkuk 1:2-3. 2:2-4; 2Timothy 1:6-8. 13-14; Luke 17:5-10
Being a Christian is a scary business. Jesus made this plain to would-be disciples. He warned them of obstacles which would be sure to come – and then went on to warn them of something even worse – providing them.
Alas for the one who provides them! It would be better for him to be thrown into the Sea with a millstone put round his neck (Lk 17:1)... . Scary business indeed!
Jesus asks so much of disciples; how can we even dream of being what he wants?
If your brother does something wrong, reprove him. Who among us is strong enough and wise enough to do that? How many of us when we see someone doing something wrong, especially someone in the Christian community, has the courage to meet with him alone and gently reprove him? And having done it once or twice, how many of us make it a habit of life?
And then: if he is sorry, forgive him. How hard is that? To forgive ... from the heart!
But wait, there’s more: And if he wrongs you seven times a day and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I am sorry’, you must forgive him. Jesus really lays it on, doesn’t he? How could he expect anyone to do such heroic things?
No wonder his apostles (note the plural) say: Lord, increase our faith. They may still have a lot to learn but by this time they must have understood that the demands of discipleship cannot be accomplished with mere willpower, or intelligence or skill, or any other talent. They know it requires faith, and they ask for an increase of it. And here is where it gets interesting.
The Lord replies: Were your faith the size of a mustard seed... .
Strangely, I once found myself resisting one of the charismatic ladies in a former parish who asked for yet another Holy Spirit Seminar to be conducted in the parish. We had only just completed one and now, already, she wanted another? That would have made about three in the last year. ‘Yes, Father,’ she said, ‘You can’t get enough of the Holy Spirit!’
Well, that sounds OK if you don’t think about it too deeply, but it does pose the question: Does the Holy Spirit come in amounts? And this is precisely the problem the Lord had with the apostles who seemed to be quantifying faith – so you could have a small amount of it, or a larger amount of it.
The Holy Spirit is the Holy Spirit, and where the Holy Spirit is present, well, he is present. He can’t be a ‘little bit’ present; just as a woman can’t be a ‘little bit’ pregnant. Of course we can surrender to a greater or lesser degree to the Holy Spirit’s presence within us and give him greater and greater sovereignty over us but then we would have to be careful when we express this sovereignty in words such as: the Holy Spirit is growing within us; when the reality is that we are growing in the Holy Spirit.
It seems to me that this is why, when the apostles said increase our faith, Jesus took them immediately out of the area of quantity, and brought them to the smallest seed he could think of, the mustard seed.
Jesus could have said, for example: If your faith were the size of a grain of sand, or a speck of dust, but the point of the comparison with the mustard seed is that it is living; it has a living power which a grain of sand does not.
Just as a small weed can split a slab of concrete, or a mustard seed can produce a huge tree in which the birds of the air find shelter, so the living power of faith can move mountains.
The secret of the living power which faith has is that it is built on the living word of God. The word of God is something alive and active, says Hebrews. The power of this living word is transferred to us in the gift of faith and our ‘faith journey’ is, in truth, defined by the extent to which we surrender to the power of God’s word in us.
We, who have received this gift of living faith in God’s Word, have a responsibility for its growth in us, or more precisely, we have a responsibility to grow in this gift of faith.