This came to mind reflecting on Luke 17:1-10 this morning.
The apostles request for "more faith, sir!" comes in response to Jesus telling them that their imperfections are bound to cause them to stumble and misuse his message, and that they are to warn each other if they are missing the mark and forgive each other when they do.
The essence here is that Jesus is telling the disciples that they do have the faith that they need. They need to live it out.
Yet they are disciples, not the Lord. They know that they are not in control, so they ask for faith from its source: Jesus.
Jesus' story about the duty of slaves expands on this. It suggests that as we grow into our faith by being obedient to God, we will act out our faith and grow into the people we were created to be, on mission with our Lord. But it doesn’t change who is the master and who is the disciple.
One commentator notes that the idea of “thanking” the slave (v9) doesn’t mean verbalizing a social nicety but indicates that the master is now in the slave’s debt. We may want or receive thanks for the ministry that we do, but we need to be careful not to believe our own PR and think that now we have arrived, now people (and God) owe us something. We’re just doing our job…what we were created to do.
I keep coming back to the disciples' original plea: Give us more faith! I beg for this sometimes, often when I don't have the guts or the discipline to do what the faith that I have (a mustard seed?) is urging me to do. Do I really want more faith, if faith is what makes me a dutiful "slave" to God?
In his exegetical notes on this passage, Lutheran pastor Brian Stoffregen writes:
Then what, indeed. Jesus spends a lot of time telling the disciples that his way is not a picnic or a free ride, but a way of surrender and submission. As Martin Luther put it, Jesus' followers are perfectly free...to be the slave of others.
I'm not sure that a lot of people really want more faith. They may want more of the faith that will help them out – a faith that might heal themselves or a loved one, a faith that will help them pass a test, a faith that gives them assurance of eternal life; but do they really want a faith that will make them more Christ-like in sacrificial giving, in sacrificial loving, in sacrificial forgiving? I'm not sure if people want that.
It has been suggested that many people want only an inoculation of Christianity – just enough of it to protect them from catching the real thing. There is a danger in asking God to give you more faith. You might get it – then what?