Charitable people who take care of the less fortunate in the world experience a reoccurring and common theme. The theme, is the problem of the poor never seems to be solved, no matter how much help is given. Perhaps, that is why Jesus tells his disciples, “the poor you will always have with you.” One of the reasons it is true is because of a common human response to adversity. People will try and fix their problem in the easiest possible way. For some, it means going repeatedly to a source, which in the past, has alleviated the need, with little or no effort on their part. In other words, keep going to the well until the well runs dry. For others, it may be to ask for help from the first person who is available to help them. There is a psychological truism all humanity shares: take care of a problem with the least amount of effort is always the first action taken when facing a predicament. The best solution however, is when someone else can do the hard work.
In a similar fashion, the human dynamic mentioned above is playing out with Jesus and his disciples when they ask him, “increase our faith.” Jesus does not respond to them with an easy answer such as, “sure I will, sit back and let me take care of it.” Quite the contrary, he begins to have them solve their problem by first using natural things as a means of illustrating, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Jesus is starting to place the wish of the disciple’s lack of faith right back into their own laps for them to navigate on their own.
To accomplish Jesus’s objective, he takes his disciples, and all of us, down a different path of problem solving. He isn’t going to just give them an increase of faith by a miracle, because the longing of the disciples is without understanding. Faith is not a one-way street, or commodity which can increase without any effort on the part of the individual. Faith is initially a gift from God given to his people freely. The gift is complete and full when given. God does not hold back on his gifts in the slightest. The disciples incorrectly thought by asking for an increase in faith, the gift was somehow lacking; meaning, parts of the gift which had not yet been given to them. God never does anything partially, his offer of life is completely overflowing and nothing is ever held back. Hence, the disciples’ request was as ignorant as it was absurd.
The disciples did not fully realize that once the gift from God is received by his creatures, faith takes root. A person who has faith has the certainty there is another being outside of himself, one of great majesty, goodness and power which is not his equal. The being, we call God, is worthy of our worship and praise primarily because faith assures us, He is our source of existence and continued goodness.
When the initial gift of faith is given, it is either ignored or received warmly. When faith is received, the relationship between the creator and the creature begins to form. From the moment the relationship is encountered, the individual meets the divine in a communication of love. The person then becomes enthralled in the goodness of God, allowing the person to cooperate with God’s will in bringing about a world God envisions. To cooperate means we must do our own work in growing our faith, taking the gift of God and through our efforts enhancing our faith to become stronger daily. Our own work, and our own efforts, working in concert with God’s initial gift, is how faith is increased.
Now that we know an increase in faith is our own work to do, we no longer need to waste time by asking God to increase it. What we should ask for instead, is that God helps us to strengthen our will to do the work of increasing our faith. The continued work of increasing our faith is tantamount to loving God more deeply each day, the daily desire every Christian should have.
If only we have the faith the size of a mustard seed, what marvelous things we could do, even having a mulberry tree be planted into the sea. All that is needed is faith the size of a mustard seed, Jesus tells his disciples first, and then you.