5“The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The 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. “
This week’s text is a difficult one. The disciples want Jesus to increase their faith, which is the very thing Jesus is eager to do.
At first glance, however, Jesus seems to berate the disciples for their lack of faith. Then he compares the disciples to “servants” who are only doing what they ought to do. It’s confusing, to be sure.
And yet, a more careful look reveals that Jesus is giving his disciples a bit of a pep talk, “Hey, guys, you can do this! It’s not as hard as it seems. In fact, it’s quite easy when you get the hang of it.”
The disciples are distraught because in the verses preceding this text Jesus tells them to forgive. He uses the number seven. Elsewhere he says 70×7 (see Luke 17:4, Matt. 18:22). The disciples are stunned.
From their perspective, what Jesus is saying seems impossible. Who can forgive like that?
Jesus is helping his disciples discover something about the nature of God (God forgives 70×7) and the nature of humanity (We become human by forgiving one another-that’s the very essence of what it means to be human). Jesus is inducting the disciples into their own humanity, and as with all induction processes, it seems impossible at first.
Jesus is revealing a very practical process that we all go through: that which first seems impossible, will over time and with some practice, not only become possible, but actually quite normal-a way of life. In other words, what Jesus is asking the disciples to do is not as extraordinary as it sounds. Within the Kingdom of God, it’s really quite ordinary to forgive 70×7. It’s a bit like a servant doing a very simple and rather mundane task that does not deserve a ton of fanfare.
Consider for a moment something that once seemed impossible to you and now is quite normal-so normal you hardly give it a second thought: walking, riding a bike, playing the piano, raising kids, even surviving the death of a loved one or forgiving your enemy. The normative pattern of becoming human is that over time and with some practice (and most importantly with someone to show us that it’s possible), we end up doing things we didn’t think we could do.
It’s as if Jesus is saying to his disciples,
“Come-on guys, you got this! It’s not a crazy as it sounds. In fact, it only takes a mustard seed of faith. You already have that seed at work inside you now…I am giving it to you. I know it seems impossible (like telling a mulberry tree to throw itself into the sea). What I’m telling you is not only possible, it will actually become quite normal…no big deal…70×7-a way of life! One day I will breathe the Spirit of forgiveness into you and you will do the impossible (John 20:22). You are created to do this! You are created in my image and the deepest truth of what it means to be human is to forgive one another.”
Finally, Jesus casts the disciples in the role of “worthless servants” (v.10). It’s harsh, but important language. Jesus is comparing his disciples to himself. Jesus is the rejected one, who is seen as worthless, and yet it’s he who forgives. In other words, the one who has been most wronged is the one most empowered to forgive. Wow. Lord, increase our faith.
All of us, especially the leaders in our network who serve vulnerable urban communities, are facing what seem like utter impossibilities: injustice, violence, and broken relationships. Jesus is showing us how to do the impossible-forgive our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. He’s doing it for us until we can do it for ourselves. It’s the only way to become human and stay human…and it’s the only path to a world of shalom.