In the middle of this text comes the plea with which we can all identify. A request for the Lord to “Increase our faith!” I do not know any disciples who are beyond the need to pray this brief prayer for more faith. We typically are awakened to our need for greater faith when faced with difficult circumstances.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come. It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves. “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them.” ~Luke 17:1-4
Are you ready to join the disciples in asking for more faith, after reading that? If we are operating under the delusion that if we are faithful life will be smooth as butter and sweet as sugar, we may be suffering from denial. The things that cause us to stumble are bound to come. Why does this take Christians by surprise? One reason is that we have been sold a candy-coated Christianity that supposes wealth and comfort equal blessings from God. This leaves everyone feeling faithless because bad things happen in everyone’s life.
But many of these things come from other people. And Jesus here declares that the people from whom these bad things come will not escape judgment. Are the “little ones” that Jesus mentions here little children? In Matthew’s account this statement follows some discussion of children (Matthew 18:2-5). In Luke’s account, there seems to be broader application. Perhaps ‘little ones’ are the ones of ‘little faith’ or who are young in the faith? Either way, all of us will face opportunities to stumble in our faith because of the actions and words of other people. Jesus pronounces a woe (judgment, curse) upon them. In addition we need to be sure that we are not the ones causing the stumbling.
The call for forgiveness recognizes two realities. First, people are going to sin against us. Second, our duty is twofold: rebuke and (upon repentance) forgive. Things do not always work out the way we would hope. Sometimes our rebuke does not lead to repentance. And, as Jesus says here, sometimes repentance does not lead to ceasing of the offense. I am careful to be mindful here of those who suffer multiple abuses at the hands of cruel people. This is not, in my estimation, what Jesus is addressing. However, multiple offenses may come. I have experienced that … haven’t you? No wonder the apostles cry out here…
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” ~ Luke 17:5
That’s a plea with which I can identify. But the answer of Jesus surprises me.
He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. Suppose one of you has a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Will he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Won’t he rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Will he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ~Luke 17:6-10
Are you tempted to look around and ask if anyone else has an answer about how to increase our faith? Were we hoping for 3 easy steps or 40 days of something? What about a new book to read? A new blog to which we can subscribe? Can I download it on my iPad? Is there an app for that?
Mustard seed? I don’t want a mustard seed faith…I want a pumpkin seed faith! Big faith! Big deeds! Cool stuff for God done on a grand scale! But if I’m still waiting for lightning to strike and for me to receive awesome faith abilities I may be looking in the wrong direction. Jesus pointed to the tiny mustard seed.
A friend of mine, Cecil May III, suggested:
Jesus is saying to the 12, More faith? You do not use the faith you have! If you did, you would be moving mountains. You do not need me to increase your faith. You just need to put your faith into practice.
I think there is something to that.
When we do all we can for Jesus, we are still dependent upon His grace. It’s not our goal to become superChristians pumped up on faith so we can do amazing things. The most amazing thing we can do is trust Christ to save us in spite of the stumbling, offenses, failed efforts at serving Him … when we have done everything we can do we have only done our duty.
Instead of asking for more faith, we should exercise the faith we have. In fact, I think we’ll have opportunity to do that very soon.
What are your thoughts?
Thanks for reading,