Increase Our Faith
Attention to detail matters in life.
It matters even more when you are reading God’s word.
For example, its critical to notice in the first verse we read from Luke that the sentence ends with an exclamation mark.
That little piece of punctuation indicates that the disciples are making a demand of Jesus.
That little black line with a dot under it tells us that the disciples are telling, not asking, Jesus to increase their faith.
“Increase our faith!”, exclamation mark.
Not, “Increase our faith.”, with a period.
Not “Increase our faith?”, with a question mark.
But “Increase our faith!”, with an exclamation mark.
They really wanted their faith increased.
They were demanding it.
It sounds to me like the kind of demand a child makes of its parents.
A demand that is accompanied with an impatient stamp of the foot so Mom and Dad get the point.
And we need to get the point.
We need to notice the demand.
And more importantly we need to pay attention to the way Jesus reacted to this demand.
Jesus replies to them with a response that, on the surface of it, sounds a little bit crazy.
As in “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell trees to go jump in the lake, and they would.”
Or at best Jesus’ reply to their demand sounds like a throw away answer.
An answer meant to deflect or minimize the demand they were making.
After all, no one could take seriously the idea that faith so small that it could be stuffed into a mustard seed, could yield such spectacular results as flying trees.
So, what are we to make of Jesus’ bizarre answer to his disciples’ demand?
Maybe, Jesus’ answer to this demand from his disciples is not meant to teach them, and us, to have more faith.
Maybe Jesus’ flippant answer to his disciples’ demand for more faith is meant to jar them and us.
To shake up all of our expectations, to get everyone thinking about what it is we demand from God and why we demand it.
So, let’s do that.
Let’s reflect on the question, “Why might the disciples be demanding that Jesus increase their faith?
The text is not clear on this point.
The disciples do not say why they want their faith increased.
It could be that the disciples, like us, were feeling inadequate in this area of their discipleship.
When we look at the signs and wonders Jesus performed during his ministry and compare it to the puny evidence of our own faith, it is easy to feel inadequate in the faith department.
It is easy to think that this feeling of inadequacy is the reason the disciples wanted more faith.
They demanded more faith so they could be more like their Master.
This would be a good thing, right?
You would think so.
After all, we all want to be more like Jesus.
The Bible even tells us that that is the very goal of the Christian life; growing daily into the likeness of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us.
If this is the case, if the disciples are demanding more faith so they can be more like Jesus.
Then why Jesus’ off-handed answer to the disciples’ demand?
Jesus’ flippant reply makes me think that he does not feel that his disciples’ demand for more faith is motivated by a sincere desire to do a better job of being like him.
So, what might be their motivation for demanding more faith.
Again, the text does not make the disciples’ motivation clear.
This is where theological reflection helps.
If we consider the context of the rest of Luke it could help us understand the disciples’ motivation for demanding more faith.
To this point in Luke, what have these demanding disciples seen Jesus do?
From the answer to this question we can draw some well-founded conclusions as to the disciples’ motivation for wanting Jesus to give them more faith.
The disciples had walked with Jesus as he healed countless sick people, cleansed lepers, made the lame whole, cast out demons and raised the dead.
The disciples had seen the effect these wonders worked on the crowds of people they attracted.
No doubt, they liked what they saw.
And no doubt they understood from Jesus’ own words that it was this mysterious thing called faith that was the power behind the signs and wonders that Jesus did.
The disciples also were very likely impressed with the accolades that came Jesus’ way as the result of these signs and wonders; like feeding 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes and quieting the storm with a word from his mouth.
The disciples were no doubt impressed with the power that Jesus exhibited through his faith.
The Twelve had even had a personal taste of that power, the power of God to transform.
When Jesus sent them out with the power to proclaim the Kingdom and heal the sick no doubt their taste for personal power had been whetted.
And maybe, having had a taste of the power of the Kingdom, maybe they wanted more of the same.
But was it more faith they wanted?
Or was it more power?
Or maybe what they were really demanding was both?
More faith so they could exercise more power.
That I think is what Jesus discerned was the motivation behind the disciples’ faith demand.
I believe Jesus discerned that his disciples were the disciples demanding, not asking for, more faith so they could have more power.
More power to show off their faith by working miracles on demand.
More power to show off by telling trees to be up-rooted and go jump in the lake.
More power to do fantastical things that had nothing to do with the Kingdom work that Jesus had come from the Father to do in their midst.
I believe that this is the humanly perverted motivation that Jesus discerned was at the heart of his disciples’ demand for more faith.
Why else would he have given them such a flippant throw-away answer designed to minimize or deflect their demand.
Why else would he have launched into a seemingly unrelated parable about the right behaviour of slaves in relationship to their masters?
By his answer, Jesus was saying to the disciples, “The lack of faith is not your problem, because you can serve the Kingdom with even the tiniest bit of faith.
But even miracle working faith is as useless as flying trees if it does not come from the right motivation, from a heart that is right before God.”
And what is that heart?
Take a look at the rest of our text.
The answer is there in Jesus’ parable.
Jesus jumps from telling his disciples that the amount of their faith is not what they need from God so they can be more effective disciples to him.
Commanding God to give them more faith is not the demand they should be making of God.
Jesus’ off-handed comment about flying trees combined with the parable he told, points them to what they really need to serve in God’s Kingdom.
By his off-hand and seemingly disjointed response to their demand, Jesus was saying to his disciples, “Don’t ask for more faith so you have more power to raise large crowds of admirers.
Don’t ask for more faith so you can win friends and influence people.
Don’t ask for more faith so you can feel like you are in control of your life.
Don’t ask for more faith so you can fill the pews of your church with people who come to see the latest shiny object.”
Jesus seemingly disjointed answer to his disciples’ demand points us today to the real answer as to what we lack when it comes to serving God’s Kingdom effectively.
Rather than focussing on the flashy aspects of God’s power.
Rather than depending on human eloquence.
Rather than worshipping, not God, but our ideal of the perfect worship service.
Jesus’ parable tells us to learn instead to have the humble heart of a servant.
Jesus’ parable tells us to learn to prefer the other over yourself.
Learn to serve, says Jesus, rather than demanding to be served by God.
Learn to serve, says our Lord, rather than making demands on your sisters and brothers, on your church.
Learn to live as a servant, who after doing all that is demanded of him, continues to stand humbly before his Lord, living in ways that put the lie to this world’s worship of fame, fortune and self.