As usual, the passage can be read here.
If you’ve ever read the book; The Sacred Diary of Adrian Plass Aged 37 ¾, I would think it is hard to read this section of the Bible without remembering an incident in the novel. It’s a book that is very funny and in the bit I’m thinking of, Adrian, the major character, has been reading Jesus’ words; “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree (on reflection, I think it was the parallel passage in Matthew 17:20), ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” He decides he should practice his faith, so after some thought, he ruled out trying to move a mulberry tree and considers a paper clip as a far more suitable object on which to practice. The image of a man sitting at his desk and commanding a paper clip to move is one that has stayed with me and still makes me smile.
This section contains teaching for the disciples on four subjects (in my opinion anyway) grouped together, that we could call something like; Living in God’s Kingdom. Firstly, caring about the needs of others. What we do or don’t do and what we say or do not say affects the people around us. We live in a culture where we hear all the time; ‘be true to yourself’. What that means is, be selfish, please yourself, don’t worry about your family or the people that love and care about you – just care about you. It isn’t new, at the very beginning, Cain’s question was; “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Jesus stands against this thinking; he gave his life for others and prayed for those who crucified him. If you are going to follow Jesus, you are your brother’s keeper.
Secondly, live with integrity and grace. There are two things here and they are both essential. “If your brother sins, rebuke him,” we have to be honest with each other and sometimes we have to challenge each other. It’s often easier to ignore sin but that isn’t love, we wouldn’t treat our children that way. Some of the most loving people that I know are also the most honest. The other side of this is that we have to be ready to forgive each other; “Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.”
The disciples then asked Jesus to increase their faith and his answer provides great insight into the subject. The mustard seed is a small seed so Jesus was saying; ‘with a little faith you can do amazing things’. The thing is, it isn’t the size of our faith that counts; it’s the object of our faith. You could have very little confidence in being able to walk across ice but if that ice is in the Polar Regions and it is several meters thick, you will be fine. On the other hand, you could have absolute confidence in walking across a frozen pond in winter but if that ice is very thin, you will be heading for a swim in some very cold water. God can use people with small amounts of faith.
In 1946 Sir Hartley Shawcross of the new Labour government said during a Parliamentary debate; “We are the masters now!” it was a phrase that would come back to haunt him. So in 1997, after being out of office for 18 years, Labour’s new Prime Minister Tony Blair, when addressing his own MPs said: “We are not the master now. The people are the masters. We are the servants of the people. We will never forget that.” I am not here to judge how well he did in keeping his word but it was certainly a great line from a man who was a master of the sound bite. The same is true for us, we are not the masters, we are servants, we serve a Saviour who came to serve and we are called to serve him and one another. As Christians, it should be hard wired into our DNA.
Lord we thank you that you have made it possible to be part of your kingdom. Help us we pray, to love one another, to be honest with one another and to forgive one another. May our faith be fixed in you and in your promises and may we serve you tirelessly.