Use it or lose it

Luke 17: 5-10

This is another one of those confusing, even troubling, gospels. The disciples make what seems like a perfectly reasonable request: Give us more faith! And Jesus gives them a stinging reply. We can sympathize with the confusion of the disciples. For chapter after chapter of Luke’s gospel, Jesus has been challenging them to embrace some pretty radical concepts. This Nazarene, this journeyman carpenter tells them that he and the Father are one; that they must change their hearts or perish; that love of God and neighbor supersedes sacred ritual; that you cannot serve God and wealth; that they must forgive and forgive… and on and on; one tough nut after another. No wonder they ask: Give us more faith!

On its face Christ’s response is something between a challenge and a put-down. He tells them: If your faith were the size of a mustard seed, you would already have all the power you need to perform tremendous feats. The operative word here is: If. By definition If makes every subsequent statement conditional. It questions whether they have even the smallest measure of faith. However, an alternate translation of the original First-Century Greek puts Christ’s remarks into a very different light. In addition to If the Greek word “ei” was also commonly translated as “since.” And what a difference a single word can make. Instead of scolding the disciples for a total lack of faith, this construction recognizes that the disciples’ faith, while miniscule, could still be very powerful… if only they would use it. And to mix parables, Jesus tells us earlier in Luke 13, that faith like a tiny mustard seed has the potential to flower full-blown into the kingdom of God.

Jesus has called the disciples and they have followed. They will go on to survive betrayal and despair. By the power of the Holy Spirit they will carry there fragile faith to the corners of the known world. And on the way, as they exercise it, their faith will become more and more robust; so much so that all but Judas and John will follow Jesus to their own martyrs’ deaths. In this gospel, Jesus is telling them to trust him, not to doubt, not to ask for more proof. They have all the faith they need. Don’t ask for more. Use the faith you have. Use it or lose it.

That is Christ’s message to us. We are here for one reason… to be an active witness to Christ’s love in the world; loving God; loving neighbor. We were never meant to be inert, coach-potato Christians asking Jesus for a fresh order of faith before we can stir ourselves to follow him. In Baptism we get a life-time supply. It is up to us to keep the tank topped-up. Faith evaporates when it is idle. It multiplies when it is active. In this gospel Jesus tells us we were meant to grow it, to show it, to share it. We must use it or lose it.

Committed to a vocation that focuses on encountering God in the midst of everyday life, the Rev. David Sellery serves as an Episcopal priest that seeks to proclaim the good news of God in Christ in worship, pastoral care, education, stewardship, and congregational growth.

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