27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C
Can We Ever Have a Mustard Seed of Faith?
Just prior to this reading, Jesus has told the disciples they should forgive seven times. (Seven was a perfect number, so he implies that forgiveness should be infinite.) I imagine that the disciples are a little shocked. Really? Forgive no matter what? No matter how often?? They turn to Him for a solution. Yeah, we can’t do that. You’re going to have to figure this out for us.
But instead of doling out instructions about how to have more faith, Jesus seemingly slams his followers again. “Your faith is so small; it’s not even the size of a mustard seed. If it were, look at what you could do. But, alas, you can’t. You don’t have it” (adapt. v 6). He further rubs salt in their wounds by reminding them of their spot in the pecking order—just lowly servants (v. 10). At this point, I bet the disciples wondered why they had left everything to follow this guy.
But I think what Jesus is actually saying is that there aren’t clear-cut directions on the path to more faith. Faith isn’t like that; it’s not a recipe. Everyone’s journey to God and to faith is different. And that’s ok, even if it’s not easy. The one specific direction we get from this passage is to keep turning to God, no matter how we feel in the moment. As servants, that action allows us to say, “we have done what we were obliged to do” (v.10).
Turning to God when we feel abandoned by Him grows our faith—somehow we’ve managed to eek enough of a belief to continue to look for Him, even if we’re not sure He’s there. Turning to God when things don’t make sense demonstrates a kernel of belief, even if it is smaller than a mustard seed, belief that He has a plan greater than ours. Turning to God in times of prosperity acknowledges the source of our gifts, our dependence on Him.
Forgiving seven times (or seventy times seven [Matt. 18:22]) may seem impossible, and it actually is impossible for us. No action we take here on earth will magically grant us the faith to accomplish that command. We can’t. But God can. So the one thing He “obliges” (v.10) us to do is to look to Him. He’s put the ability in us to do that. Faith is ours. But looking to God recognizes the source.
Faith is human; it ebbs and flows. But God is constant. He’s almighty, unchanging (James 1:17). He is the One on whom we can depend. A mustard seed of faith would do it, but we don’t have even that. We are just lowly servants who’ve been commanded to turn to the Author of Creation. We would do well to heed His call.