“If I just had more faith.” I think most of us have struggled with that at some point in our lives. If I just had more faith I wouldn’t have so many questions or doubts. If I just had more faith God would answer my prayers. If I just had more faith he wouldn’t have died; she would have recovered. If I just had more faith I would be more involved in the church. If I just had more faith I would be a better person, a better parent, a better spouse. If I just had more faith I would know what to do, I would handle things better. If I just had more faith life would be different.
It is an approach to faith at least as old as the apostles’ own faith. It is the approach they have taken in today’s gospel. “Increase our faith,” they ask Jesus. Jesus has just warned them not to become stumbling blocks to others and told them to forgive as often as we need to, even if it is seven times in one day. The disciples are right in thinking that this kind of life will be difficult. It will be a challenge to live that way. “Increase our faith,” is their response. It seems like a reasonable request.
The request to increase our faith, the belief that if I had more faith things would be different, reveals, at best, a misunderstanding of faith itself and, at worst, demonstrates our own unfaithfulness. Jesus is very clear that faithfulness is not about size or quantity. “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed,” he says, “you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
Faith is not given to us in a packet to be spent as currency in our dealings with God. Faith is not measured out according to how difficult the task or work before us.
Neither is Faith a feeling - If we sat around waiting to "feel" love for our enemies, we'd never do it - and in all honesty how many of us actually do? Likewise with faith. If we sit in our pews pleading with God to increase our faith sufficiently for us to revive his Church, sufficiently for us to take up our twenty-first-century crosses and live the Gospel life, we will wait for ever.
Faith is not a thing we have or get. Faith is a relationship of trust and love. It means opening ourselves to receive the life of Jesus Christ and giving our life to him in return.
Faith will not, however, change the circumstances of our lives. Instead, it changes us. Living in faith does not shield us from the pain and difficulties of life, it does not undo the past, and it will not guarantee a particular future. Rather, faith is the means by which we face and deal with the circumstances of life – the difficulties and losses, the joys and successes, the opportunities and possibilities.
Faith does not get us a pat on the back, a reward, or a promotion in God’s eyes. It is simply the way in which we live and move and have our being.
Luke 17: 5-10
Faith is practised day after day in the ordinary everyday circumstances. Some days when the pain and heaviness of life seem more than we can carry it is by faith, relationship with Jesus, that we get up each morning and face the reality of life. Other days present other circumstances. When we feel the pain of the world and respond with compassion by getting involved with feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, speaking for justice; when we experience the brokenness of a relationship and offer forgiveness and mercy; when we see the downtrodden and offer our presence and prayers — in all those we have lived, seen, and acted by faith. Then there are days when we feel powerless, lost, and do not know the way forward. By faith we sit in silence and wait.
Faith, then, is how we live; the lens through which we see ourselves, others, and the world; the criterion by which we act and speak. Faithfulness means that no matter where we go, no matter what circumstances we face we do so in relationship with the One who created, loves, sustains, and redeems us, the One who “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”.
And what about the mulberry trees and the mountain? Can we give orders to them today? We can indeed. We can order mountains of hate to leave our hearts to make room for acts of reconciliation and forgiveness. We can command whole forests of fear to uproot themselves and be swallowed up in the sea of hope. (2 Timothy 1:10).
Jesus does not increase our faith. It is not necessary. We live by faith not because we have enough faith but because we have faith, any faith, even mustard seed sized faith. That is all we need. Jesus believes that. So should we.