The apostles said to the Lord, “Make our faith
greater.” The Lord answered, “If you had faith as big as a mustard
seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Pull yourself up by the roots
and plant yourself in the sea!’ and it would obey you’.
the size of a mustard seed
A small congregation built a new
church on a piece of land left to them by a church member.
Ten days before the new church was to
open, but their world came crashing down when the local building inspector arrived
and informed the Pastor that unless they double the number of parking spaces,
they would not be able to use the new church.
Unfortunately, the new building had
used every square centimetre except for a rather steep hill behind the church.
In order to build more parking
spaces, they would have to move that rocky hill. Undaunted, the pastor
announced the next Sunday morning that he would meet that evening with all
members who had “mountain moving faith.”
They would hold a prayer session
asking God to remove the mountain from the back yard and to somehow provide
enough money to have it paved before the scheduled opening dedication service.
At the appointed time, 24 of the
congregation’s 300 members assembled for prayer. They prayed for nearly three
hours. At ten o’clock the pastor said the final “Amen”. “We’ll
open our new church next Sunday as scheduled,” he assured everyone.
“God has never let us down before, and I believe he will be faithful this
The next morning as the Pastor was
working in his study there came a loud knock at his door and a rough looking
construction foreman entered. “Excuse me, Reverend. I’m from a
We’re building a huge shopping mall.
We need some fill – in fact, heaps of fill. Would you be willing to sell us a
chunk of that rocky hill behind the church?
We’ll pay you for the dirt we remove
and pave all the exposed area free of charge. We need to do this now to allow
it to settle properly.” Well, the little church was dedicated the next
Sunday as originally planned (Source unknown).
Wow. When you first hear this story
it’s easy to say that this is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he
said, ‘If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this
mulberry tree, ‘Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!’
and it would obey you’.
In other words, through faith we can
But is that right?
Is that a correct conclusion?
Was it their ‘mountain moving faith’
or the length of time they spent in prayer that in the end gave them what they
Were those 24 people super heroes of
faith and so moved the mountain?
The disciples were facing their own
mountains that needed moving.
In the previous verses Jesus had been
talking about the effect that sin has on our lives.
Firstly, Jesus warns that anyone who
causes another person to sin would be better off if a huge rock were tied
around his neck and thrown overboard somewhere in the deepest part of sea.
The disciples were worried about this
and quite rightly.
Who hasn’t caused someone to sin?
Who hasn’t said and done things that
have caused others to be hurt, fell alienated, angry, hateful, and unforgiving?
If that weren’t enough Jesus goes on
to say more. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive
If he sins against you seven times in
one day, and each time he comes to you saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive
It’s a difficult thing to talk to
someone – rebuke someone – whose lifestyle does not reflect their position as a
child of God. Jesus goes on to say even more.
When a person says he/she is sorry,
Jesus says there is to be no limit to the number of times we are to forgive
Very possibly he could be asking for
forgiveness for the same or a similar sin over and over and over again.
Jesus says in no uncertain terms,
‘You must forgive him’.
That kind of forgiveness goes right
against our human nature.
That person who keeps on offending us
doesn’t deserve forgiveness and yet Jesus pronounces some dire consequences on those
who can’t overcome their need for revenge and be forgiving.
The disciples had a problem – you
might say they had their own mountain that needed moving.
They recognised their own sinfulness
and their failure to live up to their calling as people who belong to God and
disciples who claim to follow their master and do his will.
So, they come to Jesus with all this
on their minds and say, “Make our faith greater!
Give us a greater amount of faith so
that we will be able to do the things that you have asked of us”.
They felt that an increase in their
faith would enable them to move the mountain of sin that was getting in the way
of their faithful discipleship.
And what does Jesus do – how does he
answer their prayer?
Does he lay his hands upon them and pray
and give them more faith?
Does he snap his fingers and grant
them a double dose of his Spirit and faith?
Does he give them ‘mountain moving
faith’ so that they could remove all obstacles that got in their way?
No, he doesn’t – instead he says to
them, “If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this
mulberry tree, “Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the
sea!’ and it would obey you”.
The point Jesus is making is that
they have already been given faith.
Even a tiny faith the size of a
mustard seed is enough as far as God is concerned.
The size of faith doesn’t matter
because God is the one doing the moving.
If it is my faith that moved the
mountain, then the bigger the mountain the more faith I would need to move it.
The bigger the obstacle the more
strength I’d need to climb it.
The more serious the illness a faith
even greater would be required to overcome it.
The more serious the sin the more
faith I would need in order to have it forgiven.
That kind of thinking kind of makes
sense, but that’s not how faith works. In fact, faith doesn’t do the work at
all. And thank God for that.
God is the one doing the work through
faith. Think of faith as the key that opens the door to God acting in our
If I have a bigger key ring than you
do, does it matter?
The size of a key ring doesn’t matter
– key rings don’t open doors but it’s that little key on the ring that opens
Even a little faith opens the door
for God to move the mountains and trees and even our hearts.
So, what Jesus is saying to his
disciples, who asked for their faith to be increased, is that even if they have
the smallest amount of faith, they can do great things.
Even the smallest faith can grasp
what God has and is doing in our lives;
even the smallest faith is able to
recognise the ways that God is able to make changes in lives and in our world
We have all met people who have lived
through very difficult times, and no doubt many of us have thought about the
great faith they must have had to come out of their troubles as well as they
We may even have said to them – with
respect and admiration, ‘I don’t think I could have faced what you have faced.
I admire your great faith.’
In response to this I have heard people
say, ‘My faith is no greater than anyone else’s. I just didn’t know what faith
I had until I needed it. God helped me, if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have
Jesus didn’t need to increase the
size of the faith of the disciples. They already had faith.
He assures them of that and states
that, even though their faith may be small, God can accomplish great things
And we know that he did. They went on
to share the Good News about Jesus even in the face of some strong opposition, being
brought before rulers and judges, being imprisoned and killed.
Didn’t Paul say when he was recalling
some of the difficulties he had to face as an apostle, “I have the
strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me” (Phil
He doesn’t talk about how great his
faith in God was, but rather he talks about what his faith was focussed on.
There are times when our confident,
perhaps even over confident faith, is brought crashing down because of what is
happening in our lives.
There are times when our faith seems
so trivial and weak in the face of gigantic threats to our health, our family,
But no matter what size and strength
we consider our faith to be at any given moment, faith as small as a mustard
seed (and that’s pretty small) is able to uproot a mulberry tree (which has an
extensive root system, and plant (not dump) it into the sea and still expect it
to bear mulberries.
Years ago, I was asked by the parents
of a child who was severely intellectually disabled whether their child would
have enough faith and understanding to come to Holy Communion.
My answer: ‘I wasn’t particularly
concerned about understanding. Their child may never be able to express what
she believed in words.
But as far as God is concerned a faith
the size of a mustard seed is all that is needed for him to be able to do great
things in their child’s life.’
What a joy it was for all those at
church, especially the parents, to see the outstretched hands of this child,
waiting for them to be filled with the love of God through the body and blood
of Jesus in the sacrament.
Praise God that in spite of our sins
he has given us faith – even faith as small as a mustard seed.
And God working through the faith he
has given us will defeat the devil’s temptations to sin, he will help us
overcome the obstacles we face when forgiveness is required.
God working in us through faith can
move mountains and trees and even our own hearts for his glory. Faith is
powerful, because the Christ in whom faith believes is powerful.
Faith, even one that is described as
being the size of a mustard seed, relies on Jesus, his love and strength. This
kind of faith enables us to rise above the most threatening circumstances.
To repeat Paul’s words, “I have
the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me”
Let’s not twist all this around in
order to convince ourselves that now we don’t need to take faith and prayer and
the study of God’s Word seriously.
But realize that you already possess
more than enough of what’s needed to change your life, your heart, your family,
your community, even your world.
In summary, today we are being asked
not how much faith do we have but rather what are we doing with the faith that
God has already given us?
And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human
understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
© Pastor Vince Gerhardy