Summary: We should expect that even small faith can have a big impact, if...
During the time we lived on Guam Cheryl and I were fortunate enough to spend two weeks vacationing in Cairns, Queensland, Australia.
I could go on for hours about how wonderful Australia is and how much we enjoyed our time and the people there. (It was a much needed break from the pressure cooker we were in.) One of the surprises to us were the beaches in this tropical paradise. All of the swimming areas are protected by a series of nets that go out into the ocean for perhaps 20 or 30 meters.
Now you might think that the nets are there to protect people from crocodiles, sharks, or barracudas.
And I suppose they may discourage those creatures. But they are really designed to keep the box jellyfish from coming in contact with swimmers.
The box jellyfish is about the size of a thumbnail and nearly impossible to see in the water. Each fish has about 25 tentacles. And each tentacle has about half a million little harpoon shaped needles which inject venom into its victim. The venom from some species causes itching and mild pain. But the poison from some varieties can be enough to kill a man.
Just the smallest prick from a box jellyfish – often invisible to the eye – is enough to kill a big man.
Small object – big impact.
Or maybe you know of people who have used Botox for cosmetic purposes. What most people don't realize is that a mere speck of pure botulinum toxin—the key ingredient in Botox—is powerful enough to kill an adult.
Small object – big impact
In our scripture this morning Jesus gives a small object – big impact object lesson – albeit a bit more silly than box jellyfish – or even botox.
Look with me at Luke 17:5 “The apostles said to the Lord, “Show us how to increase our faith.”
The context is a discussion that Jesus is having with his disciples about avoiding sin – and the impact of sin. He goes on to say, however, that if someone repents of their sin there should be radical forgiveness of a kind that we can't even quantify.
The disciples appear to be a bit overwhelmed by this teaching and they turn to Jesus and ask for an increase in their faith –- an increase in their allowance -- presumably so they could do what Jesus was asking of them.
Verse 6 “The Lord answered, ‘If you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘May you be uprooted and thrown into the sea,’ and it would obey you!”
In the ancient word a mustard seed was proverbial for something really really small.
Elsewhere Jesus talks about his kingdom as being like a mustard seed which when it grows big provides a roost for large birds. It may look small to you now but the impact will be big.
The mulberry tree was one of the largest trees in the middle east. Huge (and messy) -– and their roots and shoots creep all over the place. It's really hard to get rid of a mulberry.
So, the apostles ask for more faith. But Jesus' response sounds a bit like he didn't quite hear the question right. I'm guessing that the disciples were thinking he should have turned up his hearing aid.
How exactly does Jesus respond to their request – which seems reasonable enough.
Does he say, “I want you to dig deep within yourself so you can discover the inner strength of faith that lays hidden within your being”?
Or does he send them off on some kind of epic quest – a trip to Mount Doom to dispose of the ring or an adventure to gain a secret key or rescue a maiden – all a pretext for character development.
Or does Jesus give them some kind of secret formula for faith? Follow these three steps and you'll get more faith.
No – instead he gives them a small object – big impact illustration.
Eugene Peterson's Message paraphrase of verse 6 is outstanding.
“But the Master said, ‘You don't need more faith. There is no “more” or “less” in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, “Go jump in the lake,” and it would do it.’”
Of course, Jesus is being a bit hyperbolic.
There is probably no good reason to command a tree to uproot and jump into the sea. But that's not really the point.
Jesus is using a common form of ancient oversize humor. He gets them laughing.
As he is talking, the apostles are all picturing how silly it would be for a huge tree to pull itself from the ground and to start running along holding its roots up like a skirt.