Lately, we’ve been making our way through the Gospel of Luke. We’re mid-gospel, Jesus has turned towards Jerusalem (spoiler alert: I won’t tell you what happens there) and, on his way there with the disciples, there’s some pretty dense teaching with a lot of stories. Parables of the the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, the Prodigal Son, the Unjust Steward (or the Shrewd Manager – it’s more an “and” than “or,” but it’s just a title and I’ve talked about that already), the Rich Man and Lazarus, sin and forgiveness and more. And there’s going to be more.
But, right in the middle of it now, it kind of seems like the disciples are feeling a little overwhelmed. Maybe we are too, and not just with this story. I’ll come back to that, but the disciples, they seem to be overwhelmed and they “said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” (Luke 17:5, NRSV) I could be wrong – and it’s not just the exclamation mark talking – but I think the disciples are feeling just a little exasperated. This is a lot of stuff, probably in a short time, they’re the ones who are the “chosen” followers, the close companions and I wonder if they aren’t just feeling a little pressure, a little frustration that they’re not getting it fast enough and maybe even some stress that living all this out might be challenging. Difficult, even. You know, like life is.
So they ask for help. And Jesus, well, I just picture Jesus doing another one of those face palms and, as he’s done other times, giving an outrageous request an equally outrageous answer. It’s all about mustard seeds moving mulberry trees and servants being rewarded for doing their jobs and simply doing what we’re supposed to. (Luke 17:5-10)
Here’s the thing. First of all, they’re on the right track. They don’t seem to know it, but they are. They don’t say “Oh Lord, make me smarter” or “Oh Lord, make me more wise or understanding or imaginative.” They ask for faith. They know it’s about faith.
The part they stumble at is “give me more.” So Jesus answers with some humour and some foolishness. The point is that you can’t quantify faith. All the faith you need is in you, just use it.
Faith, like God, simply is. There’s no faithometer. It is. You can’t go to church or read your Bible to top up when you’re low, that’s where you might go to learn what it can do. It isn’t about how much faith, it’s what you do with it. It needs to be exercised. And daily.
That’s why Jesus likens it to servants doing their jobs (remember, it was the 1st century) and, ultimately, people doing what they’re supposed to be doing. Faith isn’t just for special moments or for an hour on Sunday morning, it’s for everyday. It’s for the mountains and the valleys. It’s for sharing the joy of celebration and sitting quietly with grief. It’s for the love we give and the love we receive. It’s for grace. “Put these things into action every day, just like I’m showing you,” I think Jesus would say, “and you will know you have all the faith you need. Think about the stories I just told: love extravagantly (Lost Coin, Lost Sheep, Prodigal Son), engage the world where the world is (Unjust/Shrewd Steward), care for others and build relationships (Rich Man and Lazarus) and forgive, forgive, forgive (seven times a day).”
Maybe Jesus should have made the disciples play musical instruments. I know that sounds random, but hear me out. I used to be a musician (still am, I guess, but just for fun) and I still play the piano a bit. I know, as any musician does, that the more you play, the better you are. “Better” isn’t really the right word, though, because it’s not about the volume (pun intended), the mechanics or the technique (which hopefully do improve), it’s about the music. No, sorry, practice doesn’t make perfect. What it makes is more music. The world could use more music.
And more life. That’s the kind of faith Jesus is talking about. One that lives. Everyday.