Summary: This passages initially looks like a call to greater faith, but what Jesus is actually saying points in the opposite direction.
WHY DID JESUS SAY THAT? Who wants a flying mulberry tree?
- Luke 17:6.
- This verse is generally taken as a generic injunction to have more faith, but let’s think about it for a moment. It’s a peculiar request when you think about it. Why exactly would anyone want to watch a mulberry tree come out of the ground, go flying across the sky, and then splash down? How often is that an actual need someone has in their life? It never happens anywhere in the Bible and I certainly haven’t seen it happen in my life.
- Let’s consider for a moment whether Jesus might have something else in mind here.
- First, I think that Jesus may be speaking here as He did in Luke 6:41-42 when He spoke of having a plank in your eye. Obviously none of us can literally have a plank in our eye – He was using hyperbole to make a point. I think something similar may be at work here.
- Thinking about this idea led me to take a deeper look at this passage and ask whether something else might be going on. I think there is. In fact, I think this passage is not an encouragement from Jesus to have more faith. Let’s dig in and see if we can understand it better.
JESUS' REBUKE TO THE DISCIPLES: “You don’t have a faith problem – you have an obedience problem.”
- Luke 17:3-10.
- Let’s unpack this piece by piece and see if we can get the big picture.
a. Verses 5-6 are normally understood as the disciples’ asking for increased faith in response to the challenging “forgive seven times” teaching (v. 4) and Jesus affirming their cry with an encouraging statement that even a little faith can do miracles.
- In fact, I think this is just about the opposite of what is actually happening here.
b. First, Jesus gives the challenging teaching about forgiving someone seven times.
- It is something that most of us would find difficult to do.
c. Second, because the disciples do find it a difficult teaching, they cry out to Jesus that He would increase their faith so that they could do something that hard.
d. Jesus, though, does not response with an encouraging word, but with a rebuke.
- Verse 6 is a rebuke. The disciples are requesting more faith and Jesus says in effect, “More faith? You could do something as incredible as making a mulberry tree fly into the ocean if you just had a tiny mustard seed of faith. More faith is not the problem!”
e. What is the problem, then? Obedience.
- What follows in vv. 7-10 is key. After rebuking their request for more faith, Jesus then tells a parable about obedience.
- The main point of the parable is that obedience is simply part of what it means to be a servant. It’s nothing unusual, but business as usual. More on this in a moment.
- Also note that v. 6 includes a reference to obedience, saying that the tree would obey.
- Jesus is telling them, “You don’t have a faith problem – you have an obedience problem.”
- More faith is not what would get them where God wanted them to be. They needed more obedience to get them there.
- Some examples:
a. You wouldn’t expect a call from the IRS: “Mr. Butcher, we just wanted to call and thank you so much for sending your taxes in on time.”
- They just expect that.
b. I think of the wonderful American phrase used in the White House: “I serve at the pleasure of the president.”
- That speaks to the idea that the president has the authority and you are merely his helper.
c. Imagine me starting the sermon this morning and saying, “Look, everyone! I’m wearing a tie this morning! And shoes! And I’m wrote a sermon!”
- None of that should be considered impressive. It’s part of my job to show up each week ready to give a message from the Bible.
- Too often we’re too impressed by our own obedience.
AN AMERICAN CHURCH PROBLEM: We have created a two-tier religious system – “believers” and “followers.”
- The way that we do church these days looks something like this.
- You have “believers,” who are people who state a belief in Christ. They believe He died on the cross for their sins. They believe they’ve been saved. They believe they’ll go to heaven someday.
- This “belief” requires no life change, no change in behavior, or no transformation. It merely requires a stated set of beliefs. This is considered enough to make you a Christian and get you to heaven.
- There is then a second set of people: “followers” (or “super-Christians”). They take seriously the commands of Christ and try to do them. They serve in the church and in the world. They want to be transformed into Christlikeness.