The Faith of a Mustard Seed
And Jesus said to his disciples, Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come. It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. Our full text for today has a lot of vivid imagery, does it not. I feel like this is the type of speech by Jesus that if I were a disciple listening to him talk to me, it would be easy to for me to hear Jesus’s words and immediately be lost in thought picturing a mob hit, out at sea, where someone will be sleeping with the fishes, and yet somehow that is better than tempting someone else to sin. Suddenly my fellow disciples are saying to Jesus “Lord, increase our faith,” and Jesus says if you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to that mulberry tree “be uprooted and planted in the sea.” Now I picture a tiny yellow seed with a mouth kinda bouncing along until it comes to a tree that is in it’s way, and it says go jump in the sea and it does it…why is Jesus on a kick about things dropping in the sea…Then, like the volume being turned up I suddenly hear Jesus saying “we are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty, and now all I can think is, what did Jesus say before about temptations to sin?
I am thankful for the recorded words of Luke so that I can read and inwardly digest the words of Jesus, especially the ones that are not so attention grabbing. As you reflect along with me, I hope you see just how important his words are concerning the nature of what it means to be the church of God.
Jesus has just gotten done addressing the Pharisees. This particular dialogue of Jesus begins all the way back in Chapter 15, when Jesus has tax collectors and sinners who have drawn near to him, and the Pharisees grumble against the manner in which Jesus is doing the work of the Kingdom. Jesus then shares how important and how valuable it is that a person who has sinned repents, and is forgiven. But the Pharisees have no interest or desire to see a so called sinner repent, they are more interested in receiving blessings that they feel they deserve for having never sinner against God, or so they thought. Jesus then turns to the disciples and says beware of the temptations that money can bring. And the Pharisees, who were lovers of money ridiculed Jesus, and Jesus says to them “you think you are following the Law and the Prophets, but you aren’t.” And Jesus tells the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, where there was a man who wore nice clothes and ate the finest food everyday. Outside of his door was laid a poor man, covered in sores, who was so hungry that he would have loved to eat the bits of food that fell from the banquet table of the rich man, just to have something. Lazarus dies and the angels carry him to Abraham’s side. The Rich man also dies. Then there is a dialogue between the Rich man in Hades and Abraham. The point Jesus is making is reaffirming that you cannot love both God and money, and also that anyone who is a lover of money, rather than God, will not enjoy what is coming to them.
Now if I were directing a film of the gospel of Luke, I would have Jesus wrapping up this story while addressing the Pharisees, then there would be an awkward pause with Jesus just staring at the Pharisees with a look that says “say something, I dare you.” Then Jesus turns to his disciples for how they should act instead, but with a final jab at the Pharisees, it would be something like this: “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come. It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.” Better to die miserably but be with Abraham than to cause a follower of God to sin and go the other way. And Jesus then turns fully to the disciples to give a further account of what the implications are for how the church should act are in light of the reality that temptations are sure to come. Jesus says “Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents forgive him.” Not too long before this, Jesus shared about the rejoicing that is done in heaven when a sinner repents, and Jesus is saying, part of being the church is participating in the call of repentance. Your brother or sister in Christ will be tempted, temptations will come, but when you see them giving into temptation, rebuke them for their sake. You will be tempted to sin, temptations will come, and if you fall into sin and your sibling in Christ rebukes you, your response should be repentance. And if your brother sins against you specifically seven different times in one day, and repents each time then you will forgive him. As a follower of Jesus, it is your natural response to forgive your brother who sins against you. It’s not like, as a child growing up, your little brother has a cold and accidently sneezes all over your food and now you don’t get to eat your favorite meal that your mom made special for you, and you are irate, and all you want to do is throw his food in his face but your parents are telling you that you have to forgive him so you begrudgingly mumble “I forgive you” and everyone knows that you don’t, at that moment, but your parents are trying to teach you the right and godly way to act, so they are modeling and enforcing what you are supposed to do with the hopes that one day they won’t have to tell you to forgive your brother, you will just do it. No this is your brother’s alarm goes off for several minutes and you hear it but somehow he doesn’t. Then you get in the shower and your brother uses the bathroom and flushes the toilet which makes the shower burn for a few seconds. Then, while you are getting dressed and he is already done, you tell him how you are looking forward to pop-tarts for breakfast and he likes that idea and says “me too,” and he goes downstairs and when your mom asks him what he wants for breakfast he says pop-tarts, but unbeknownst to you or him, that is the last pack and by the time you get downstairs he has eaten all but half of one, and he offers it to you, but you both know he is sick, so you don’t eat it. Then, your brother asks if he can feed your dog, and you are like, sure, one less chore for me to do, but they he accidently pours out too much and your Saint Bernard quickly eats everything, and then goes into your closet and pukes on your shoes. Your brother cleans up your shoes, but then gets soap and water all over the floor and when your mother gets home and asks who did that, your brother says you did it. Then your mom makes your favorite meal and your brother has to sneeze, and instead of covering his face with his hands, or sneezing in front of himself, he sneezes to his left, directly into your food, because he didn’t want to get snot on his food and he thought he would miss your food, but didn’t. Then when he goes to bed, he uses up the last of the toothpaste and your parents forgot to get more, so you have to brush your teeth without it. Worse than Alexander and the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, your brother sins against you 7 times, but every time he apologizes and says that he is sorry, how do you react? Jesus tells the disciples that when a brother sins against them, but every time repents, then every time they must forgive. And Jesus says this will be the natural response, not the forced response.
And in light of this, the disciples say wow, that is really challenging, how can we do this? Well, really what the disciples say is “Lord, increase our faith.” Jesus responds “if you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could command a tree to do something ridiculous and it would obey you.” Something of note with Jesus’s response. A grain of mustard seed was the smallest known thing at that time. If Jesus came in the flesh at this time, to today’s people, he might have said if you have faith like an electron or quark material. The point being that the disciples are asking the wrong thing when they say increase our faith. It is not the size of a person’s faith that allows them to do the miraculous, rather it is who the object of one’s faith is. You can have a great amount of faith in money, and it will eventually fail you. You can have a great amount of faith in yourself, and what you have done and what you intend to do in the future, but that faith can not give you the strength to forgive your brother who sins against you, anymore than it can empower you to command a tree to throw itself into the sea and it obey you. But even the tiniest of true faith in Jesus can give you the strength and the ability to forgive your brother no matter how many times he has wronged you. Even the tiniest of faith in Jesus can give you the strength to help your brother out by rebuking them. Even quark sized faith in Jesus can help you overcome the inevitable temptations that are sure to come. Because the value of trust, the value of faith, is always upon the one being trusted rather than the abilities of the one doing the trusting. So put your trust, whatever faith you have, whether it is the size of a tree, or if all you can muster amongst the trials and temptations that you are facing, is the size of a mustard seed, put whatever trust that you have in Jesus, the author and perfecter of your faith, for He is worthy of all honor, glory and praise, and He has given himself so that you might have life in him.