5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.
Continuing on with these vignettes of the teachings of Jesus, we see this repeated from Matthew. In Matthew’s case, it was a mountain, not a mulberry tree, which I think is a bit more impressive.
It’s interesting that the apostles would ask Jesus for this. They usually aren’t portrayed as the most self-aware. Though, since Matthew places this verse in the context of the disciples failing at casting out a demon, perhaps that is what precipitates their request. They had failed. Men don’t like to fail. We place a lot of our self-worth on our sense of accomplishment in all the areas of our lives. So if we fail, it hurts us. It’s tough to let go of. The disciples want to fix it. They realize that they were lacking something, so they ask Jesus to help them. Increase our faith.
Jesus replies basically that with faith you can do anything. You can have a mountain move or a tree go cliff diving. The idea isn’t literal. It’s figurative. If you have faith, you can move a mountain even if it’s just one shovelful of dirt and rock at a time. This is an encouragement to them, not a rebuke. Don’t get discouraged by failure. Have faith. Pick yourself up. Believe in God, believe also in Me. Get a pickaxe and a shovel and move the mountain.
It’s easy to give up after a failure. Easy to quit. Jesus encourages us to keep going. Have faith. God will get you there even if it takes longer than others have taken. God will get you there even if you fall down and bloody your knee more times than anyone else. God will get you there even if you have to drag yourself with your hands across the finish line. Just keep going. Don’t give up.
7 “Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? 8 But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? 9 He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? 10 So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”
I used to take this verse pretty literally. Felt miserable. No matter what I did in the name of being a Christian, I was unworthy and felt guilty at feeling happy for my accomplishments. I was stupid. And I suspect I’m not alone. I think many people live their Christian lives feeling isolated, miserable, and alone. They continually see themselves as ugly, as unworthy, as failures, as outcasts. They wear a mask at church. They smile. They can move about in Christian circles because they know the culture, but deep down they have a voice telling them that they’re unworthy, that they’re ugly, that if people could see who they really are, those people would be abhorred at them. Because their sinners, they can’t do anything on their own, there is nothing good in them.
Come on, let’s be honest, how many of us have heard those very things said from a pulpit about us? Now how many of us took those words to heart? How many of us believe that not worthy of being loved, not worthy of happiness, unable to do anything good or worthwhile? I’d guess more than a few.
Think back to the previous chapters. Remember how in each story, there was something lost. What did the shepherd and the woman do? They searched for it in earnest. And when they found it, they rejoiced, because it was precious to them. And they called other people to come over and rejoice with them because they had found the valuable thing they had lost.
Think of the Father. What did he do? He ran, hugged his son, dressed him in fine attire, and threw a party. His son was precious to him. Did he take his son up on his offer to become a hired servant? No. This was his son. He rejoiced and took him back to sit at his table as family.
So what should we take from this parable about a slave who spends all day working in the fields and then comes home and has to shower, get dressed, and cook dinner to serve his lord? And then looks upon his work and flagellates himself with his words that he’s only done the bare minimum required for his lord?
Humility and perspective.
You shouldn’t feel miserable about yourself, but you should have a proper perspective in your work. You may have moved half a mountain one shovelful at a time, but you didn’t make the tools you’re using, you don’t keep your own heart beating, and your own lungs drawing in breath. And we didn’t save ourselves from being lost. We didn’t find our way back home. We were carried. We were found. We were restored to the family. That should cause us to view our actions in the light of that love. Our good works are done not for others, not for ourselves, but because it is what is right. It’s what we owe our Father who restored us. Going out and treating others with the same forgiveness, kindness, generosity, and charity, that’s what is expected of us. So in the midst of doing that, as people think fondly of us and there is a temptation to see ourselves as great men and women, there needs to be some perspective. We’re doing this for others, not because we’re great people (though we might be), but because it was done for us when we were lost, broken, hurting, starving.
We’re part of a family. We have worth. We have value. We are loved. We’ve been given much, now it’s time to go and do the same to others and keep that proper perspective as we do.