Today, in Luke 17:6, I read, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you would tell the sycamore tree, ‘Be uprooted, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
As I have been reading through Luke, I have been noting Jesus’ idea of faith. When the apostles were in the boat during the storm and Jesus was sleeping, he awoke and both Jesus and his apostles were surprised. The apostles were surprised he could command the waves and sea, and Jesus was surprised at their little faith. Later, Jesus goes up on a mountain with Peter, John, and James, and when he comes down, he finds that the other apostle had met a demon they could not cast out. Not only is Jesus surprised by this, he is frustrated, and cries out, “Faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you and bear with you?”
Those words terrified me. If that was faithless and perverse, then what condition am I in?
Luke 17 has something else to help with this, I think. Jesus statement about the mustard seed is a response to the apostles’ request for more faith. The mustard seed statement is followed immediately by a teaching about serving God. When a master comes in from the field, the servant does not sit down and eat; he first feeds the master, then later eats himself. Even so, Jesus says, his servants should say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what we have been commanded to do.”
In all of this, I hear, “You are in control of your faith.” It only takes tiny faith to do amazing miracles, but the mustard seed is not just tiny. Like all other seeds, it is meant to grow. So, our faith can grow as we throw ourselves into serving Jesus. When we put ourselves aside and focus on him, not only will all our needs be met (Matt. 6:33), but our faith will grow. We will become less and less perversely faithless as we serve him because faith comes from the Holy Spirit, and God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him (Acts 5:32).
Further down in Luke 17, Jesus praises the faith of a leper. Ten lepers, practicing social distancing because they were unclean, called to him while standing far off from him. Jesus told them to go show themselves to the priest. As they went, they were healed. One of them, a Samaritan, ran back to fall on his face and thank Jesus.
Interestingly, Jesus said, “Were there not ten cleansed?” This is an example of Jesus’ faith. How did he know that the ten were cleansed? He just trusted. They were far off when he told them to see the priest. They turned around and left, but he knew they would be healed on the way by faith. Then, when the Samaritan come back, Jesus told him, “Go your way, your faith has healed you.”
Despite Jesus’ frustration with the apostles’ faith in particular, he is gracious about crediting others for their faith. The interesting thing, though, is that the next event is being asked about the kingdom of God. Jesus says that it does not come with observation, but it is … and the Greek here can mean either “it is in your midst” or “it is within you.”
Today, though, I realized the main point is not whether the kingdom was in them or in their midst, but that the kingdom of God does not come with observation. Don’t stand around looking for it! Go get it! I am pretty sure the kingdom of God was on earth in the form of Jesus at that time, so I think he was saying, “Here I am in your midst,” not “the kingdom is within you awful pharisees.” (The pharisees asked the question.) The point, though, is that they were waiting around for the kingdom, and here it was right in their midst. Forget looking, grab it! Believe it! Get it! The kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. Pour yourself out! Say, “I am an unworthy servant; I have only done what I was commanded.” Go get more. Pursue Jesus more. Lay hold of more faith. Jesus is the King of the kingdom! We must lay hold of him!