Faith As Small As A Mustard Seed
Ordinary 27 Year C
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 17: 5 — 10
Jesus is now talking to His close circle of disciples — the Apostles.
Our short reading may, at first, seem to portray our Lord as being a little remote, obscure, and perhaps even lacking His usual warmth. We need to take note of the scholars who explain that St. Luke is here presenting a collection of our Lord’s sayings. The text requires us to approach it as students of the Word and see our portion for the week in proper context.
For instance, we will soon read one scholar (Craddock) who explains the technicality regarding the “if” clause in verses 5 and 6. Our Lord’s Jewish manner of affirming His disciples has come to be portrayed to us in the Greek language which takes a little effort on our part to understand. Our Lord is, in fact, pleased that His disciples feel the need to ask for “more faith”. Our Lord can then be seen to assure them quickly that “used correctly” (if we may use such language) our faith will grow to match all that His disciples will be called upon to do. He will attend to that!
The section Verses 1 — 10 comprises 4 sayings, i.e. Verses 1 and 2; 3 and 4; 5 and 6; and 7 — 10.
The Jerome Commentary tells us:
“It is difficult to locate any catchword or motif that unites the three
(or four) sayings and the parable of this section, unless it be the
common themes stretching throughout Luke’s Gospel:
• God’s concern for the lowly
• Faith in the hidden presence of the kingdom and
• Man’s need for redemption.
Some are like proverbs — short pithy sayings which contain their own meaning. They are remnants of the early Church’s “verbal catechism”, and St. Luke has taken them and made a unique lesson.
• In Verses 1 and 2 Jesus said that in the fellowship of believers,
disciples are to be responsibly considerate of one another.
If not — it would be better if a millstone were fixed around their
neck and they were thrown into the sea!
• In Verses 3 and 4 Jesus declares very dramatically that if someone
sins against you: you must still show consideration for that person
— first by correctly rebuking them, then by forgiving as many times
as it is necessary!
We move on now to this week’s reading.
Some Notes on our text
Verses 5 and 6
And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied, “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.
After listening attentively to our Lord as He gave them some pretty heavy material to take in, it’s no wonder the Apostles said to the Lord: “Increase our faith.” In other words: “How can we hope to do all this without a gift of extra faith?”
We note that here we have the terms “Apostles” and “the Lord”.
St. Luke clearly has in mind not only Jesus and His immediate
followers but also the risen Lord of the Church and the Apostles
as leaders of that Church. In verse 5 they are feeling the burden,
the heavy burden of that leadership. (Craddock on Luke)
Our Lord gives a most assuring response: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
Craddock helps us “unpack” this immensely rich sentence.
The Greek language has basically two types of “if” clauses: those which
express a condition contrary to the fact (“if I were you”) and those
which express a condition according to fact (“if Jesus is our Lord”). The
conditional clause in verse 6 is of this second type; one could translate
it “If you had faith [and you do].” Jesus’ response, then, is not a
reprimand for an absence of faith but an affirmation of the faith
they have and an invitation to live out the full possibilities of that faith.
Even the small faith they already have cancels out words such as
“impossible” (a tree being uprooted) and “absurd” (planting a tree in
the sea) and puts them in touch with the power of God. That Luke has
“sycamine tree” (a kind of mulberry) instead of “mountain” as in
Matthew and Mark in no way alters the message: faith lays hold of God
with whom nothing is impossible, and it is God who empowers the life
So Jesus is saying:
“What you need is not more faith, but the right kind of faith
— faith which is prepared to unfold, grow, and, trusting in me,
reach its full potential”. Notice, with this “right faith” you can work
wonders by a word.
Stuhlmueller adds a helpful perspective to this explanation. He writes in his commentary on Luke:
When the Apostles asked for faith to perform wonders, Jesus replied
that the kind of faith which would usher in the messianic age was the
humble interior spirit of accepting God’s Word (symbolised
by the mustard seed). With this faith the universe “would have already
obeyed you” in a wondrous way, as the last part of verse 6 should
We are compelled yet again to focus our attention upon our Lord’s frequent emphasis on the importance of accepting, valuing, nurturing, dwelling on, and beholding God’s Word within us. That is a necessary prerequisite before any task in His Kingdom can be accomplished. It would be hard to find a more pointed reference by Jesus Messiah towards our responsibility to feed daily on the Divine Word. This requires more than just reciting or reading Sacred Scripture; it pre-supposes we reflect on it, seek its meaning and that we open ourselves to encountering the Living Word Himself contained therein: Christ the Word.
Later, of course, He would give Himself for us as our communion with the Word (the Last Supper).
Verses 7 — 10
“Who among you would say to your servant who has just
come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,
‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?
Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for
me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat
and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was
So should it be with you. When you have done all you
have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do’.”
In this way our Lord outlines a short parable from which we list some key points:
• There is a warning to them as Church leaders, that they can
never stop and rest in the belief they have worked enough.
St. Luke emphasises total dedication throughout.
• The world’s idea of success is to lord it over others. Jesus’
way is the reverse: servant-based.
• They wanted faith that would blow away all uncertainty and doubt.
Jesus insists they start with the faith they have and let the power
of God unfold! There are no short-cuts!
• There is no place or time at which the disciple can say — “I have
completed my service — now I want to be served for a change.”
Cox, in The Gospel Story, sums it up:
This parable is probably only a fragment of an instruction on the
danger of pride, arising from their power to work great miracles, and
the conversions they will make in their future labours. It is based on
the state of slavery then common in Palestine. They must not think of
themselves as great rabbis, like some of the Pharisees; they must
humbly serve like slaves.
• Leaders need to remember that they are the servants of the
servants of God.
• All members of God’s household need to remember that they
come under the same instructions.
• Jesus was yet to drive home with absolute force the lesson that
they must serve as He had come to serve.
With them we can ask the Lord “Let our faith increase.”
Click here for: Appendix — Commentary On St. Luke 17: 6
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Let us remember God’s Teaching, contained in His Word and in doing so,
Faith As Small As a Mustard Seed
Ordinary Sunday 27 Year C St. Luke 17: 5 — 10
1 The Apostles are all very aware of how miniscule their faith seems to be in
2 Faith is not some isolated skill we can develop to achieve the things we
3 As members of God’s Household, our responsibility is to study and meditate
Let us pray for one another that we will persevere against so many odds
Luke 17: 5 to 10
Ordinary 27 Sunday Year C
5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”
6 The Lord replied, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you
7 2 “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in
8 Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat.
9 Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?
10 So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been
2 [7-10] These sayings of Jesus, peculiar to Luke, which continue his response to the apostles’ request to increase their faith (⇒ Luke 17:5-6), remind them that Christian disciples can make no claim on God’s graciousness; in fulfilling the exacting demands of discipleship, they are only doing their duty.
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition
Commentary On St. Luke 17: 6
For the instructor or group leader we attach a note from:
“The Gospel of St. Luke” by James Kleist, S. J.
17: 6. Christ’s method of teaching is apt to puzzle the modern mind.