And yet, journeying with Jesus and being close to him made them realize that there was something lacking in their spiritual life. So, they asked him the question, “Lord, increase our faith”!
Jesus, who knows what is in the heart of each one of us, understands what they are going through. He agrees with them to such an extent that he even exaggerates a bit to highlight that, in spite of everything, their way of living out their spiritual life does not include faith. “If you had faith the size of mustard seed,” he tells them, implying that they had almost no faith at all as the mustard seed is very, very small. Still, if they had such little faith they would have been able to move mountains and mulberry trees (whose root-system is very wide and strong!) Faith does not come from mere teaching, from catechism, from adhering to the law. All this helps, but it is not faith. Faith comes from living with Jesus, staying close to him, letting his way of living rub off on them.
Unfortunately, the way those people were living their religion was not life-giving, did not bring them joy. The motto underlying their lives was “we are worthless slaves, we have done only what we ought to have done!” How contrary this is to what Jesus came to bring to each and every one of us.
First of all, for Jesus, we are not slaves. We are children of God, daughters and sons. When, earlier on in Luke’s gospel, the famous prodigal son returned to his father asking to be accepted as a servant, the father would have nothing of it. He was a son, and all his misadventures did nothing to change this. Later on in the same story, when the older son complained that he had been slaving all his life, the father’s words were clear and direct: you are my son, and all I have is yours.
Also, definitely for Jesus, no one is worthless. He came specifically to give us back the dignity of being children of God.
Then, there is that sense of duty, doing only what we ought to do. A true follower of Jesus does nothing because he is forced, simply out of obedience or because it is his duty. This brings no joy. Everything a true follower of Christ does is done out of love, because that is what Jesus did. St Paul, the strict pharisee who eventually met Jesus on that fateful day on the road to Damascus, could reflect and compare his past and present life, the “old” and the “new” man, life under the law and life under the Spirit. Only the latter brought Paul life and happiness.
The people listening to Jesus must have understood what Jesus was saying. If they really desired a growth in their faith, they had to make that qualitative leap into living the same life Jesus lived. A life moved by Love, by the Spirit, by God.