What I’m Thinking: Increase Our Faith

Jesus’ followers asked him to increase their faith. He didn’t give them an easy answer.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the seventeenth chapter of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 17:5-10). Some of Jesus’ disciples asked him a really good question, a pious question, a question you would ask of a spiritual leader like Jesus. They said, “Increase our faith.”

The first thing Jesus said was that if they had faith the size of a seed that they could summon a tree to jump into the sea — not exactly a complimentary answer.

Jesus’ response that followed it if anything got, oh, rather worse. If one of their slaves, he asked them, were to come back from the fields or from the sheep, would they invite that slave to sit down at table? No, they would tell that slave to go on and prepare the dinner and serve at the table. So you likewise, said Jesus, should come to God and say we have only done what we ought to do, for we are nothing more than slaves.

That is a very, very hard message, and I look at it and I go, “What on Earth were you telling us, Jesus?” The comparison with slavery is particularly, well, bad, because slavery is, was, always will be bad. It is not an appropriate relationship between human beings.

Is it an appropriate relationship between human beings and God? Is that what Jesus was trying to tell us here? I don’t think so.

I think instead Jesus was trying to make the point that faith has something intrinsic to do with humility, and faith has something intrinsic to do with obligation, and this is a very classically Jewish way for Jesus to be thinking. The people of Israel were in covenant with God. There were expectations that they placed upon God, but God in return had a fairly explicitly set out set of expectations. “We have only done what we were supposed to do.”

This is I think an element of Christianity which I don’t know if we don’t realize it, or ignore it, or if it’s simply buried under a lot of other things: the notion that there is substance, that there is obligation, that there are works to perform (to use the words that James would write some years later), and it is not because we are giving ourselves. It is because we’re fulfilling our obligations to God.

“Increase our faith.” Well, it might have led to a demonstration of how to make a tree jump into the ocean, but Jesus decided not to go in that direction. Jesus instead said the roots of your faith are to be found in your humility, the roots of your faith are to be found in your obligation, the roots of your faith are to be found in relationship with God in which you keep trust.

For God also will keep trust with us always.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , , , , | Posted on September 26, 2022

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