Two Verses, Twelve Questions

(Posted by Paige)

Here’s a whimsical Bible puzzle for you to bat around. These two verses have recently caught my attention and raised a handful of questions in my mind:

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:5-6)

Here are twelve of my many questions. Tackle any that interest you, too!

1. What did the disciples assume about faith?

2. Were they correct in their assumption?

3. What did they assume about Jesus?

4. What did they expect Jesus to accomplish for them?

5. Is Jesus’ response intended as an affirmation or a correction of their request?

6. What does Jesus imply about faith?

7. Why a mulberry tree? Is there any symbolism here?

8. Is Jesus describing something that might literally happen, or is he using poetic hyperbole?

9. If hyperbole, what’s his point?

10. Is this the same message that Jesus intends in Matt. 17:20 (“…if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”)

11. Why is this exchange recorded here in Luke (i.e., in this particular location in the Gospel)? Are the apostles reacting to something, or has Luke collected similar material together?

12. How is this exchange related to what has come before and what will follow?

Bonus question: What would you emphasize if preaching from this passage?

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8 Comments

  1. Cris D. said,

    January 30, 2012 at 11:51 am

    I’ve pondered this post some, surprised that no one has commented. an so, I offer:

    Paige’s Mustard Seed Catechism

    1. What did the disciples assume about faith?

    A. The disciples assumed faith is a substance or thing, with mass and volume, and that a person is a vessel that can be made to hold “more faith.”

    2. Were they correct in their assumption?

    A. The disciples were not correct in their assumption about faith.

    3. What did they assume about Jesus?

    A. The disciples [at times] assumed Jesus was a Santa Claus to dispense gifts.

    4. What did they expect Jesus to accomplish for them?

    A. The disciples [at times] presumed that Jesus would accomplish all their personal and petty will.

    5. Is Jesus’ response intended as an affirmation or a correction of their request?

    A. The Lord’s response to the disciples was a correction to their misconceptions concerning faith.

    6. What does Jesus imply about faith?

    A. Jesus teaches us that our very conception of faith must come from God and his word. Our Lord implies that faith is so different from our conception, that He turns to mustards and mulberries.

    7. Why a mulberry tree? Is there any symbolism here?

    A. Since a mulberry tree was near to hand, our Lord compared it to the tiny mustard seed and it’s often large bush, intending no deep symbolism.

    8. Is Jesus describing something that might literally happen, or is he using poetic hyperbole?

    Our Lord is engaging in striking and picturesque language to make a dent in the disciples’ denseness. Mustard seeds, and their resulting bushes, have no mouths with which to literally speak.

    9. If hyperbole, what’s his point?

    A. A mustard seed acts according to its nature: with favorable conditions it grows. It does not literally tell another plant to “be uprooted.” However, like the grasses or weeds that can spring up beneath and between your sidewalk sections and eventually cause the sidewalk to disintegrate, a mustard seed might grow in the roots of a mulberry and disrupt it.

    Faith behaves in accord with its nature and purpose: to hope and trust in a worthy person outside of itself. Our faith grows as we grow to trust and value our Redeemer more and more.

    + + +

    After this question your humble catechumen bows out, not having the time to be clever, correct or profound. Not being a teaching elder, this humble catechumen will not venture the preaching question. It’s also time to finish lunch and parse some SQL.

    -=Cris=-

  2. paigebritton said,

    January 30, 2012 at 1:17 pm

    Cris Dickason is even more my hero.
    That was GREAT. :)
    Anybody else in?
    ;)pb

  3. January 30, 2012 at 6:23 pm

    Paige,

    I just taught through this passage, so shall attempt to answer 11, 12 and the bonus question. As you know, context is everything, and the Gospel writers meticulously arranged their material just so. But at times, it does seem that Luke just can’t resist sticking everything in he discovered in his research, so is a bit harder to figure out why he puts things where, than say, Mark, imo.

    But here, the disciples are responding to Jesus’ command that we forgive at all times. Their response to that: wow, give us more faith. Jesus is saying: you don;t need bunches of faith to forgive, just faith. Because what does faith do? It rests on God to do the work.

    So we can’t say to God, “I can’t forgive that.” Because we can, if we come to Him by faith asking for a forgiving heart (cf. the Lord’s Prayer).

    So…. IF God commanded us to root up a mulberry bush, then we could do that by faith. BUT God does not command us to do that, or any other such phenomenological feat, but he DOES command us to forgive, so we can do that. And if we can’t, all we need is faith in the Gospel, then we can and will.

    (The same point is made in Matthew, but with exorcism, since Jesus had commanded his Apostles to do that at that stage in Redemptive history. So the principle is the same, but the lesson from Luke more directly carries over to us today.)

    Dinner time. Blessings!

  4. rfwhite said,

    January 30, 2012 at 11:24 pm

    Paige: I’ll have a go at the questions.

    1. What did the disciples assume about faith? – That the effectiveness of faith depended on its being of a certain degree

    2. Were they correct in their assumption? – No

    3. What did they assume about Jesus? – That he required his disciples to have faith of a certain degree to be fully effective

    4. What did they expect Jesus to accomplish for them? – To increase their faith to the degree that they supposed he required of them for effectiveness

    5. Is Jesus’ response intended as an affirmation or a correction of their request? – Correction

    6. What does Jesus imply about faith? Faith is effective regardless of its degree

    7. Why a mulberry tree? Is there any symbolism here? – If this kind of tree was known for a deep and huge root system, it was an emblem of things moved only with extraordinary difficulty.

    8. Is Jesus describing something that might literally happen, or is he using poetic hyperbole? – Hyperbole

    9. If hyperbole, what’s his point? – Even faith of the least degree is effective of extraordinary things; faith is effective regardless of its degree

    10. Is this the same message that Jesus intends in Matt. 17:20? – Yes

    11. Why is this exchange recorded here in Luke (i.e., in this particular location in the Gospel)? Are the apostles reacting to something, or has Luke collected similar material together? – Following Bock and Marshall, I would say that the exchange is recorded here by Luke because he is here collecting together four sayings (“teachable moments,” if you will) each and all focusing on an aspect of discipleship, particularly as the moment of crisis at Jerusalem is getting closer.

    12. How is this exchange related to what has come before and what will follow? – This exchange is a part of the larger narrative of 9:51-19:27 where Luke recounts the rejection and teaching of Jesus the Son of Man on his journey toward Jerusalem. It may be that there is a specific relation between the four aspects of discipleship mentioned here (e.g., they request faith in response to the danger of becoming stumbling blocks and the duties of forgiveness and humble service), but it does not seem necessary to posit a relation more specific than to say that they are each related to discipleship.

    Bonus question: What would you emphasize if preaching from this passage? – The grace of saving faith may vary in degrees, but it is invariably effective.

  5. paigebritton said,

    January 31, 2012 at 6:13 am

    Oh, wonderful! Thank you, Chris and Dr. White!! :)
    pb

  6. John MacRae said,

    January 31, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    Dear Paige,
    I incline to agree with Chris’ emphasis on the context as Luke gives it to us. Thus I will comment on your last question.
    I do think Luke (and the Holy Spirit inspiring him) intends us to see this as between verses 3-4 and 7-10. Jesus has told His disciples to do something that is very hard for most Christians (rebuking properly and forgiving for Jesus’ sake) and I think they are expressing a pious excuse. Instead of acknowledging their own sinfulness (fear, unforgiveness, lack of trust, and unwillingness to obey God) they respond to their Lord with a request for Him to make obedience easy. “If only you would give us more faith we could be expected to obey your commands.”
    Jesus uses the expected behavior of a slave (doulos) to point out what our response to His high commands should be. No thought of the impact on us but rather simply yeilding ourselves to our Master and doing our duty. When we see that we do not respond that way, we then can see the sinful attitudes in our hearts and turn to God for the grace we need to repent and grow in these areas. We also look to Him for the grace to do what He commands.
    I think the point of the passage is to show us our need of dying to self and living to God. We cannot do this apart from His grace and we must do it again and again.
    Much more could be said, but that is the direction in which I would preach on this section.

  7. paigebritton said,

    January 31, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Thanks, John (my pastor!! :). I needed that message just now.
    blessings!!
    Paige

  8. julian said,

    July 7, 2012 at 2:07 am

    The point is we have no faith of ourselves. It can only be accomplished through His faith, God’s faith.


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