The Apostles petitioned Jesus, “Increase our faith.” At first glance this seems like an appropriate request, but Jesus does not give the answer we might expect. He does not say, “Remain in my presence,” nor does He encourage them to “Keep hearing God’s Word,” as doing these would have apparently “increased” their faith.
In His answer to their request Jesus is making a couple of powerful and important points. First He makes the important point that the size of the Apostles faith is not as important as they might think. In another parable Jesus had used the tiny mustard seed as an illustration of how God’s kingdom “begins” very tiny—like a mustard seed—and then grows into a bird-nesting bundle of tree-like boughs. So again now Jesus uses the tiny mustard seed to illustrate the Apostles’ faith, and in so doing He communicates that a “tiny” faith is sufficient to transplant a tree into the sea! Clearly we should not be concerned about measuring our faith, for its supposed size is not what is important. As soon as we begin to try to measure faith—either in ourselves or in others—we run the danger of making faith into some sort of personal quality or action.
A Christian’s faith only has importance and is only great because of its object. This—that the object of our faith is what is important—is a second powerful point being made by Jesus’ answer, and it is magnified by the entire Bible. Throughout Scripture, and perhaps especially in the Gospel of John, we observe an omnipresent discussion about believing in Jesus. He is the object of the Christian’s faith, and He alone is what gives faith value. It is interesting that the Gospel of Luke very infrequently speaks of faith in Jesus, for indeed preaching about “faith” is not the goal of the evangelist. The goal is proclaiming Jesus—His person and His work—and through this proclamation the Holy Spirit creates a trusting faith. This truly is what St. Luke does—he “preaches” Jesus—and from this Gospel proclamation faith is generated. The tiny “mustard seed” of faith is great only because it clings to Jesus Christ. It boasts not in itself but in its object—The Son of God, crucified and risen for mankind.
Indubitably it is the object of the Apostles’ faith that will enable them to uproot the mulberry tree of the Kingdom and plant it in the sea of humanity. It will be the object of the Apostles’ faith, not their faith itself, which will incessantly move them to plow and plant the Gospel in the hearts of people from all nations and to tend the sheep of Christ’s Church. It will be the object of their faith—that object being the master who lovingly purchased them to be His servants—which will move them to serve Him and to serve His holy meal to Him, and in so doing serve it to His bride who is one with Him. It is the object of their faith—the One who made them worthy of heaven by His death and resurrection—that will enable them to confess, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.”
Ultimately the Apostles would learn to confess no faith in themselves, nor in their gifts, nor in their strengths—but only in Christ, crucified and risen. Theirs—and ours—is a great little faith; great because it trusts the Greatest One, and little, because it knows it must not nor cannot cling to nor boast in itself.