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Mustard and Mulberry {into the story}

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 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. 
{NT reading for the 22nd week after Pentecost, Luke 17:5-10}

I’ve never much liked this story. While there’s some debate about whether or not Jesus actually referred to a mustard seed (poppy seed is one of the other possibilities), it makes no difference. Either way, the point is the same: the seed is tiny, minuscule, next to nothing. And Jesus says that if we have even itty-bitty faith, just a dollop, we can command a mulberry tree to lift its roots out of the crusty earth and walk its way right down to the sea. Matthew’s account is even more dramatic – there, we are told that pint-sized faith moves mountains. Moves mountains. What??

When some read this account, it stimulates exciting, supernatural possibilities. That’s all we need, a thimble full of faith – and look what could happen. Hold on, everybody… When I read, though, I am bewildered. I’ve never moved a mulberry tree, certainly no mountains. A couple weeks ago, my mom received word that she has bone cancer. I’d love to take a drive to Texas, say a blessing over her and know that vile cancer would evaporate. But I can’t. I don’t possess that kind of faith.

I’m wondering if that might be (at least partly) the point.

When Jesus spoke these words, no disciples jumped up to start tossing trees. In fact, a wider reading suggests that the disciples were confused, perplexed – humbled, we might say. The disciples consistently attempted to commandeer Jesus’ kingdom imagery and displays of power into resources for their own agenda. And Jesus would always refuse. Jesus would say something outlandish that would put them in their place. For instance, Jesus would invite the disciples to gather up their 1/2 teaspoon of faith and rearrange the hillside. An offer like that is bound to take a person down a notch.

Perhaps Jesus’ response to the disciples’ mixed-motives request for an increase in faith wasn’t intended to help them gain a positive vision of their endless possibilities, a divine pep-talk. Perhaps the nod to mulberries and mountains was to show the disciples how small they were, how much they needed God.

God isn’t one we use, one to provide us with material for divine magic tricks. God is, well, God. God is the one we worship. The one we love and obey. The one we hope in. The one who, in Jesus, died and rose again to defeat evil, embody redemption and commence new creation.

With the mountains and mulberry trees, perhaps Jesus was suggesting we don’t first need bigger faith. We need a bigger view of God.

8 thoughts on “Mustard and Mulberry {into the story}

  1. Yes. I agree a bigger view of God! I am so sorry about Virginia's diagnosis. I do know that God has chosen this path at this time and He wants to use it to display His Glory! I pray He will. Praying.

  2. Thanks for this post man… Will pray for your mom…we just found out today that my older brother, pastor in California (cary), has Hodgkins Lymphoma… He told me today, "God is always good. We will just see what His path has for us".

  3. Peace, brother. We are praying for you and your family.

  4. Mark, I am so sorry about Cary.

    Thank you all for your prayers.

  5. We are praying for you and your family. peace to you. bridg, josh, ti, kai

  6. In hospital wards, messages of faith sometimes go only so far. And when people are too full of faith, it just seems hokey. But a few have realistic hope because, as you suggest, their eyes are watching God and not the rest of the mess.

  7. Finally, a view on this passage of scripture that makes sense…..one I can accept andhold onto…..I have heard all my life, sermons on how "if" we had this faith our lives would be better…..'c'mon people, increase your faith and the problems of life will move outof the way!'……..I never could find that amount of faith……depressing, isn't it?
    and here, possibly, Jesus was not wanting us to increase our faith, but see Him in a larger "view"…..which, if you see this angle, does increase our faith…..just doesn't necessarily move the "mountain"…..

  8. Indeed, it increases our faith – but with God as the center, not us.

words have a way of making friends. drop a few here.