My uncle is a bit of an unusual character. He is a big man and looks kind of grumpy, but is actually kind-hearted and has a tremendous sense of humour.
One day a moving van pulled up to one of the houses on his street and started unloading a house load of stuff. There was lots of commotion and wondering on the street who the new neighbours might be. So my uncle walked over with an empty measuring cup and knocked on the door. As you might expect, a rather frazzled woman answered the door, clearly in the midst of unpacking. My uncle, without introducing himself, or welcoming her, asked if she could spare a cup of sugar because he was in the middle of his baking.
I heard this story 20 or more years after the fact, and it was told to me by my uncle’s neighbor. She was boasting at how her family had become so close to my cousins.
I thought of that story this week because the Apostles in the Gospel today ask Jesus, “Increase our faith!” It is almost like asking for a cup of sugar from someone who is busy with other stuff.
Jesus responds in two ways. First, he points out that faith is a powerful force; powerful enough to tell a tree to be uprooted and be planted in the sea. It is as if he is telling the apostles that they might want to reconsider their request, because faith is not what they think. Secondly, Jesus tells a parable. I love the parables but this one is difficult. It is as if Jesus is telling the apostles that they are like worthless slaves and shouldn’t ask for such things.
I doubt very much if a first glance is all that’s need for this parable. It is often helpful if we place a difficult piece of scripture in its context. This lesson comes just after Jesus teaching about the need for repentance and just before the cleansing of the Ten Lepers. This parable makes more sense to me in its context. Repentance comes before the kind of faith that causes mulberry trees to be uprooted or that leads to the healing and transformation of others.
If we are to live the kind of faith expressed in our vision as a parish, “To show the transforming love and justice of God in action,” we need repentance. Repentance from whatever inhibits us from God’s transforming love and justice.