It was hard not to be moved by the scenes from Aleppo captured on camera that made the news just recently.Tears of joy and relief shed by the rescuer of a one month old baby girl pulled out from the rubble of a building destroyed by a bomb. Tears shed by a volunteer with the white helmets ; Abu Kifa.
As the ambulance sped through the city, Abu Kifa can be heard repeating “Ya Allah, Ya Allah. Oh God,Oh God clutching the girl in his arms as if she were his very own.
Habakkuk’s words written around 605BC seem so apt : “why do you make me look at injustice”
Why do you tolerate wrong”
“The wicked hem in the righteous so that justice is perverted.
So it is small wonder that the disciples in Luke demand of Jesus to increase their faith so that they would be better equipped to meet the challenges of sin and evil that confronted them.
It’s not on the face of it an unreasonable request. Who among us would say confidently that “Actually I’m ok. I think I’m doing quite alright with my faith. There’s not much more that I need to do.”
I should imagine that we would very much align ourselves to the disciples way of thinking and that a passive booster of the Holy Spirit would be just the ticket. A bit of Godly power doing its stuff.
Instead the we hear the reply “ if you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can say to this mulberry tree’ Be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it will obey you”
There is a parallel response in Matthew’s gospel when the disciples enquire why they couldn’t drive a demon out of a long suffering boy.
“Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move . Nothing will be impossible for you.’
The mustard seed is pretty small.
Look at a jar of whole-grain mustard with the bits in it and you’ll get the general idea.
It is said that the mustard plant could grow to up to a height of 5 metres and maybe it’s this potential for growth that it is why Jesus uses it as a metaphor for faith.
Look at the example of the faith of the Roman centurion who was seeking healing for his sick and paralysed servant.
“Lord, I do not deserve you to have you come under my roof. But just say the word and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one ‘go’ and he goes, and that one ‘come’ and he comes.
When Jesus heard this he was astonished and said to those following him” I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith”.
What is so remarkable about that passage is that Jesus was astonished.
The son of God, prince of peace, mighty counsellor, the Emmanuel was astonished by a mere human being in the form of a Roman centurion.
Astonished by a person’s faith.
The New Testament defines faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” which is precisely what characterises the faith of the Roman centurion.
But what might we ask comes from this faith. St Paul tells us that we receive righteousness from God through faith in Jesus Christ. Through truly believing we are justified, redeemed, glorified and sanctified.
Heavenly Gifts and a guaranteed place in the kingdom TOO
which might lead to a degree of complacency, self- satisfaction and inactivity that could bring us back to the position of the disciples just wanting an instant top up.
Not exactly a faith that would push a mulberry tree in to the sea.
No, instead as a result of our faith and God’s merciful grace St Paul urges us to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices holy and pleasing to God”.
And since believing in Jesus Christ is an active process it is logical to assume that there is a practical element to this faith that we possess.
So when Jesus turns to his apostles and says “Suppose one of you had a servant ploughing or looking after the sheep” we know from our other encounters with him in the gospels that he chooses his words very carefully. Yes, agricultural images would be strong ones for his listeners to visualise and understand.
The shepherd tending his flock, seeking the lost, the lame, the weak.
Does it not call to us on a human level, to carry out our Christian duty in faith.
The plough that prepares and turns the soil, calls to us of the hard work making God’s kingdom ready. Sowing the seeds of the Gospel,
Knowing Christ, and making him known to all.
There is in this a massive pastoral element which naturally people might think is more applicable to ministers of the church but in reality, it is there for us too because what Jesus has detailed in those words of ploughing and shepherding, is the second of the greatest commandments.
Love your neighbour as yourself.
So when we love our neighbour as ourselves and plough and shepherd and do all the right things in living out our faith it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a little congratulations as we come off the field all tired and dusty.
Would we find Jesus there waiting on us, table set “come and sit down, well done, must have been a hard day.”?
Instead the opposite occurs, the servant has to change and prepare his masters meal before they can eat themselves. It seems a bit unfair until we consider that the servant is under his master’s care and protection. A servant’s duty is to wait upon their master and carry out their instructions. That is part of our faithful response to God
To wait upon the Lord
And behind that lies the greatest commandment of all;
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind”
But we are human .
we all fall short on both these commandments.
We really are the unworthy servants who strive to do their duty.
Yet Christ is there for us; for shortly we will be celebrating Holy Communion and all are invited to the Lord ’s Table to share in his supper.
Before we approach the table to receive the bread and the wine we remind ourselves of our failures as we seek our Lord’s forgiveness when we say
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under your table.”
The Lords supper and the story it tells is where our hope lies. It is central to our faith. It is there to feed us, inspire us and remind us of Jesus’ loving sacrifice made for us.
But yes, our faith will get challenged and shaken
It won’t be able to answer all the difficult questions that Habakkuk raises, but on the other hand,
perhaps it really does in fact boil down to Mustard, mountains and mulberry trees. It gives us an image of the potential that true faith really has. Like that of the Roman centurion. A depth of faith as small as a mustard seed that can move mountains and trees is a faith that is worth aiming for. It also poses a question of what the mountains and trees might be for us as individuals and collectively as a church family that could be moved as we seek to make the name of Jesus known within our benefice and beyond. How we can help the mission of the church, here and worldwide in the years to come?
What we could do?
What we could give?
Perhaps we could do something together in faith that really would astonish Jesus.