Summary: Think you know the definition of faith? Have you looked it up? The Apostles needing something, but was it faith in Christ? They were right there with him! Their faith (as we traditionally think of it) was replaced by sight. So what were they asking?
Increase our Faith
October 6, 2013
A young boy walked into a neighborhood church for the first time. He sat down and looked around at all the posters, announcements and pictures along the walls. When he came to a group of photographs of men in uniform, he asked a nearby usher, “Who are all those men in the pictures?”
They usher replied quietly, “Why, those are our boys who died in the service.”
Dumbfounded, the youngster asked, “Was that in the morning service or the evening service?”
The most often quoted line from our focus scripture of Luke 17:5 through 10, is about the mustard seed-sized faith that can cause a mulberry tree to leave its place in the soil and go to the sea. A similar statement is made in Matthew 21:21 where a fig tree is the object of movement, plus a mountain. Matthew 17:20 also involved mountain moving and mustard seeds. Additional references are found in Matthew 13:31 and 32, Mark 4:30 through 32, Luke 13:18 and 19 plus several places in the apocrypha. However, the message in this passage is about service expected of Messiah’s followers—servants of the Teacher. First, let’s examine why the mustard-seed example was used, going beyond the size of the seed, which is tiny.
The request by the apostles, the group of seventy who were on assignment for Yeshua was, “Increase our faith.” We are not told what happened that led to the request, yet it’s easy to deduct that the apostles had seen the Master perform miracles, and had been told by Him they too could do these and even greater things, but found themselves short of the faith required to do what Jesus did. To their credit, the apostles did want to do what their Teacher did and recognized their problem.
Understanding what was actually asked is critical to this story and understanding the answer, which is different than what most think. The word “faith” as used by the apostles, comes from the Greek pis’-tis, which means persuasion, credence, conviction and reliance upon Christ for salvation. The root word is pi’-tho, that adds to the word’s meaning; to have confidence, make friends, obey, persuade, trust and obey. Contrary to the Biblical definition of “faith” which is; the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen, the apostles were asking for something different, stronger persuasion powers while using the truth of Christ. The apostles were not asking to have a stronger belief in Yeshua; they were with Him in the flesh and had witnessed His miracles. There was no question about believing in Messiah, they were asking for more knowledge, ability and persistence to increase effectiveness. Now, the request and answer makes sense.
The response involving mustard seeds was understood because society of the time was agrarian by necessity, since food on the table was ultimately each person’s responsibility. Since so many in the population were involved in growing food, the example was instantly understood. So Yeshua using the mustard-seed example was a good choice and here’s why.
The mustard plant was what we call “black mustard,” which is a small bush-like tree that typically grew to nine-feet from a remarkably small seed. This mustard plant was not grown in gardens since the distribution of seeds meant they wound up in places not desired and were prolific, much like mesquite trees grow in areas of our Southwest region. Because the plants grew into trees, birds loved them for nesting, and ate the seeds, which were not digested by the birds. When the birds relieved themselves, the seeds along with important fertilizer were deposited on the soil.
Palestinian farmers hated the mustard plant since it would take root in any fertile soil, such as vineyards and where crops had been planted. As we used to chop weeds out of cotton rows, farmers of the time would pull up the plants before they grew large, but it did little good since more birds would fly in to feed on crops and leave more mustard seeds behind. This very persistent, fast-growing, fast-spreading plant aggravated farmers. Without specific chemicals to attack the mustard plant, it was going to be a part of the landscape no matter how hard you tried to stop it. The persistence of the mustard plant was an example of how our determination should be as we spread the Gospel of Christ through the Word of God.
So even very little faith, or persuasion ability, like the size of a mustard seed, widely distributed, becomes a major force in the lives of humanity, just as mustard plants growing over a mountain or field would soon change the landscape. In the face of growing faith as mustard plants would spread, what chance would a problem, such as a mulberry bush, have when confronted with a superior and repeated application of faith, such as that of the mustard seed?