The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ The Lord replied, ‘Were your 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.
‘Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, “Come and have your meal immediately”? Would he not be more likely to say, “Get my supper laid; make yourself tidy and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink yourself afterwards”? Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.”’Lk 17:5-10
Luke’s Gospel passage highlights the importance of the virtues of faith and humility, both of which are recurring themes throughout the Gospels.
The apostles recognise the importance of faith, which is why they ask Jesus to increase it within them. As his companions, they would have witnessed first-hand many miracles worked by faith – for it was the common ingredient to all of those who were healed of various diseases and ailments. When cured, Jesus ascribed the miracle not his own power, but to the faith of the afflicted, reassuring them “your faith has saved you.” By contrast, Jesus often castigated doubters and non-believers. Ironically, this lack of faith was often shown, not by strangers, but by the disciples themselves.
Jesus presents the analogy of the mustard seed to highlight the power of faith, for the mustard seed was the tiniest of seeds and the mulberry tree was amongst the tallest of trees, and thus Jesus challenges the faith of the apostles. Jesus wanted them to truly believe the wonderous things that they were seeing and to imagine how much could be done by them if they were truly men of faith. He was very much conscious of the faith that would be needed by them in the challenging times ahead, especially at the time of his death and during their missionary activities.
In this passage Jesus implores his apostles not just to be people of faith, but of humility and service. We are invited to do the same. In helping to build God’s kingdom on earth, we must have the attitude of the servants spoken of by Jesus. Our response to God must be faithful and generous, expecting nothing in return, instead knowing that this is our duty as Christian disciples. Rather than “expecting” God to thank us for our good works, or undertaking these works of service begrudgingly, we should find as a source of motivation words from the Preface to the Mass: “Lord, thank you for counting me worthy to love you and serve you.“
Director, Mission & Identity