Speaking of Faith

For an Easter people, the season is about faith, that Jesus died and rose for our salvation. In a parable about a mulberry tree Jesus alluded to the power of faith. Although Matthew, Mark, and Luke, recorded several of Jesus’ teachings on faith, this one-verse parable was recorded only by Luke. Most likely Peter told it to Luke. It is about Easter faith.

When Jesus spoke the parable of the mulberry tree, he was talking privately to his disciples. Jesus outlined responsibilities for Christian discipleship. One responsibility was to never lead a person into sin. A second responsibility was to rebuke a brother if he sins. A third responsibility—and perhaps the hardest—was to forgive a brother if he repents of sin and asks for forgiveness even as often as seven times a day.

After hearing these requirements, disciples were overwhelmed with responsibilities as followers of Jesus. How could they live so blameless a life that they never caused another individual to sin? Did they have the courage to rebuke a fellow Christian when he or she sinned? How could they, simple men that they were, forgive and forgive and forgive? In desperation, the disciples cried out to Jesus, “Increase our faith!” (Luke 17:5 ESV). Jesus gave them a one sentence response: “He replied, “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you” (Luke 17:6 ESV).

The Greek word for faith used in this parable is pistis, which means moral conviction and reliance on Christ for salvation.18 Also, pistis has a more abstract definition which includes “consistency.” By using pistis, Jesus told disciples they could meet the responsibilities that he outlined through consistent reliance on him.

Have you ever wondered why Jesus used a mulberry tree to illustrate the outcome of a small amount of consistent faith? A possible answer is in the genus name and characteristics of the mulberry tree. The name is derived from mora (Latin) meaning “delay,” probably, referring to the mulberry tree being the last tree to bud in the spring. Because the mulberry waits until all possibility of frost is past, it is called the “wisest of all trees.” When his disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith, his response was that they could and would accomplish great tasks with a consistent, small amount of faith in him.

At that point in their walk with Jesus, probably, the disciples didn’t have unswerving faith in him. They were still getting to know Jesus and coming to realize that he was the promised Messiah. Jesus was wise enough to meet the disciples where they were in their awareness of him. Jesus was telling them: “You only need a little faith in me now.” What he didn’t tell them was that later, when he was crucified and resurrected that they would need a lot of faith in him.

Reflection: Is faith logical, wishful thinking, hope, or none of the preceding? What in the world is faith? Why is it okay to have a small amount of faith when I tackle a God-given task?