Faith of a mustard seed

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

“If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” (Luke 17:6)

Luke’s use of faith here is Jesus’ immediate response to the apostles’ petition— “Increase our faith!” A double tradition, recorded also by Matthew (17:20), the variations include: a present tense subjunctive— for Matt “if you have faith”, while for Luke this subjunctive is past tense, “if you had faith” (simple, but key for me). This faith in Matt is ‘re-moving power’ faith to speak to a mountain; while in Luke it is ‘trans-planting power’ faith to speak to a sycamine tree.

Redaction Criticism is a discipline in the field of Bible that is concerned with the theology of the writer of a given book. Both Old and New Testament Redaction scholars look at the author’s ‘point of view’ revealed in the collection, arrangement, editing and modification of his sources. Not so easily dismissed when we consider the fact that each and every one of us has a theology (whether examined, articulated or not) and that our ‘sources’ is one of the four components that ‘give life’ to ‘my/your word’, ‘my/your view’ of G(g)od— (G)old, (O)il, (D)rugs)??? in whom we say “We Trust!”

Luke, then, has given New Testament Redaction scholars a run for their money. So very articulate in his faith statement that he writes his two book work to ‘theophilos’— commanding the attention of both the theologian and philosopher alike. His collection, arrangement, editing and modification of his sources sets him so far apart from Matthew and Mark that while he is the most easily known as a writing personality, he causes the most problems for the traditional Bible scholar. The 17th Chapter of Luke has 3 uses of ‘pistis/faith’, 2 of which are single traditions— recorded only by Luke.

“If you had faith…”— a subjunctive in the past tense that for me is a reminder to continue to look back over life.

Just yesterday while on Facebook, I came across a post that asked: ‘Identify a song in your life that you played over and over and over again’. My immediate thought was “Down To Earth” by Stevie Wonder. I had a very small record player that took batteries that Mama bought one Christmas. You had to put a plastic disc into the center of the 45 rpm records for them to fit the 78 rpm spindle. You had to lift the needle and reset it each time you started the song over and over and over again. “Down to Earth once again, I’ve been away too long, I got lost but then, I came home again, home where I belong”. Just that easily. Back to the places and spaces of my childhood. Going to YouTube to hear this song, … every word, every tonation, every chord… even —after all these years.

The saying is sure that ‘you can’t know where you are going until you know where you have been’. It is not a ‘crying over spilt milk’, but a looking at the downfalls, the failures, and seeing the lost possibilities of the outcome had it been ‘done in faith’. Not simply a ‘where would I be’ but an informing of each new action of ‘where could I be’! “I got lost in the crowd, that’s the price I had to pay, cause I couldn’t find, what I’d left behind, ‘til Love showed me the way…”

Nothing about the text of this double tradition is the same— for Matt it is a part of the ‘Fig Tree’ teaching while for Luke it follows the ‘On Forgiveness’ teaching… not just of our brother… but, of our self! It is ‘trans-planting power’ faith; although the action has ‘been planted, and rooted, it can still be ‘trans-planted’ and ‘re-rooted’… even to the most remote and unknown parts… the sea! “If you had faith!”

by email: