In his Gospel, Luke has Jesus “on the road” to Jerusalem, making periodic stops to teach a lesson to his followers. In the Gospel passage (Luke 17:5-10) Jesus touches upon two basic motivational virtues for effective discipleship–Faith and Service. Throughout the Gospels much is said about the virtue of service, so it seems to me that the principal focus here is the gift of faith.
Why faith? Because faith is the future hoped for out of this present morass. Many of us in the present encounter various difficulties, but have a hoped for future resolution. Faith provides that continuity which makes future solutions possible. In the above cited biblical section, the disciples ask Jesus to strengthen their faith. Why?
One can suppose that the disciples/apostles had a sense that something serious was going to happen to Jesus in Jerusalem. As his companions for quite some time, they were able to see how he treated people. Mostly with kindness, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. But, very likely, there was a dread that something bad would happen to Jesus in Jerusalem. I suspect that there were some kind of rumors circulating about future Jerusalem events, possibly his passion and probable death.
No wonder that disciples/aspostles asked for an increase in faith. They would then be able to handle the disconnect between reality (Jeus’ behavior toward others) and future Jerusalem events (suffering and probable death of Jeus).
How did Jesus react to the request? By telling a parable that emphasized the power of faith, though it be small but sincere. If one had the faith as small as the mustard see, one could say to it, “Go plant yourself in the sea,” and it would do so.
We have here an example of emphasis by hyperbole. We often do it ourselves. For example, we might say to someone, “I told you a million times not to do that.” Well, it might has been only four or five times, but by saying a “million” the point is thus emphasized.
What messages can we gain from this Gospel passage? First, we receive the gift of faith at Baptism, which faith has to be increased as we grow older. We commit a serious mistake thinking that our faith learned only with First Communion and Confirmation classes will suffice to deal with adult problems. You can’t solve adult problems with a child’s understanding of faith. Le me ask you this. Would you prefer to have your cancer surgery done by a child applying a band aid or by a competent physiciani? I think not.
The first lesson would be to participate in a situation where you learn more about your faith in order to confront and deal with adult problems. The second lesson is to fortify our faith by commiting ourselves to the person of Jesus. Strength will come from fortifying that relationship. Ongoing knowledge and constant reaffirmation of belonging to Jesus seem as close as you can come to being an effective disciple. Believe it. It’s true.