The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith."
The Lord replied,
"If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
This (now famous) illustration about faith Jesus gave to the apostles was probably as hard for them to understand as it is for us all these centuries later. The implication seems to be that the apostles have no faith at all, since even a small amount of faith will yield miraculous results”. Perhaps a closer look at how faith operates in the life of a disciple, both then and now, will shed some light on the subject.
St. Paul makes the distinction between following God’s vision by faith versus charting our own course based on how we see things. “We walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7) is often quoted as a means to show how faith can be actuated in the life of the Christian. When we proceed by faith through the “mulberry trees” (deeply rooted obstacles) of life, we allow God’s divine strength to work through our natural weakness. Authentic faith, however small, is a gift from God to be managed and shared in accordance with His will. Trying to “move a mountain” in our own strength will result in frustration and failure. Operating through faith, in alignment with divine providence, will “accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). The “power” is God’s, not ours. Jesus explains how faith, belief and prayer work together in this passage from the Gospel of Mark: “Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will. (Mark 11:23)
If we are to uproot the trees and move the mountains that stand in the way of our path to eternal life with God, we can take the first words Jesus spoke in His public ministry to heart: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15). Repentance (turning away from sin) and belief in the good news (the Gospel) provide a sure way of putting faith into action.
“Mustard seed faith”, then, flows from God’s providential, covenantal relationship with us, His children. Our small “seed” will produce little by itself, but faith and belief received and multiplied by God will produce miraculous results. Just as God used a small amount of food to feed a large crowd, He will use the small seed of faith we offer in prayer to produce abundant, everlasting results.