I got stuck on the first verse of the gospel story this week. Luke 17:5. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’”
That’s a pretty hefty request and I’m sure that we can all appreciate where the apostles are coming from. Jesus asks a lot of them. Their lives certainly have changed, following Jesus around, relying mostly on the hospitality of others, and they’re constantly being challenged by Jesus to learn new things and a new way of living. And the way the gospels tell it, they aren’t always the fastest learners, they sometimes fail miserably and, even when they do “get it,” their doubt and fear can still get the better of them.
You have to wonder if they ever felt like they weren’t meeting Jesus’ expectations. They were chosen, they were called to follow Jesus and learn to be like Jesus and share that teaching with others. If they were supposed to be like Jesus, I wonder how often they thought they were succeeding. I wonder if they ever felt like it was just too hard and they should give up and go back to the simple life of fishing or collecting taxes or any of the other ordinary, everyday jobs they’d left behind. After all, they were just ordinary, everyday folks. A little extra faith would sure help.
It can seem like Jesus asks a lot of us, too, us ordinary, everyday folks. I wonder how often we’ve thought it’s just just too hard, what Jesus asks of us. Or that it’s just somehow beyond our ability. Or that it sounds like a great idea and wouldn’t it be great if we could, but, you know, realistically, it’s just not going to happen that way so why even try. Sigh.
That sounds like Eeyore, Winnie the Pooh’s favourite pessimistic donkey. Maybe he could use a little more faith, too.
Except that won’t do it.
First of all, let’s be clear that it’s never about meeting expectations with Jesus. Jesus isn’t about expectations or passing a test or meeting a set achievement standard. Jesus is about how we live and how we love, with sincerity, truth and wholeness.
And that’s important to remember because Jesus’ response to the apostles’ request for more faith is to say you don’t need more. You can’t need more, even, because all that you need is already within you. It isn’t about quantifying your faith. There is no more or less. It’s about how much you use it.
Faith, someone once said, is a muscle. All you need is there, but it must be exercised and worked. That’s how it will grow, not in quantity, but deeper, more fit and healthy and capable. Exercise it.
What’s more, says Jesus, is that faith doesn’t require heavy lifting. It’s not great acts and grand gestures that exercise our faith the most, but the ordinary, everyday little things that express our faith. Small acts of kindness and caring, moments of love and engagement, reaching out to others, these are what we build our life around. Faith, like life, is lived.