Strong on Earth, Poor Before Heaven

This is a mid-week follow up to last Sunday’s post on the poor widow. An insight that illuminates that passage and its relevance for us that I wanted, briefly, to share.

In Luke Chapter 17, the apostles say to Jesus: “Increase our faith.” 

Jesus says to them: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed you would tell this mulberry tree to uproot and transplant into the sea and it would obey you.” Lk. 17:5-6.

What’s going on here and how does the attitude that Jesus encourages here, with his disciples, connect to the inner disposition of the poor widow we just saw in Mark 12?

To recap: the disciples come to Jesus. They ask him: ‘Increase our faith.’ They see and sense that faith is important. Jesus has repeatedly made this clear. He has said, in their presence, that the faith of the poor and the wounded has saved them, made them well. The disciples have seen active faith in the poor and the sick who have come to Jesus. They have seen the fruits of this kind of deep, ardent faith in Jesus. They want to grow in faith. They want their faith to grow. 

They ask for this gift. Jesus, in a way, doesn’t respond. 

He does not give them faith, pre-packaged. He doesn’t increase it for them in that moment.

Instead, he tells them, in effect: 

‘You have faith. You have, by this point, enough evidence to put your trust in me. Use it.’ 

Like any coach teaching a skill to players, He knows that, in acting on it, they will see the truth of it. They will learn it. They will see how it works. In exercising faith, faith will be validated in practice and grow stronger. 

Jesus wants them to discover their nobility as children of God, their ability to use their minds and hearts and souls and strength to act in collaboration with God in the world. When they do so they will see that God acts with them. They will discover that the Father is eager to act on earth through the hands, the hearts, the feet, the souls, the minds, the strength of His children. 

Jesus wants to be able to say to his disciples (similar to what he said to Bartimaeus) your faith has moved this mulberry tree. Or as he said to the timid father of the tormented child: all things are possible to those who have faith (Mk 9:23). 

So he bids his disciples exercise the faith they have. As men. As women. Not as children who merely receive it as gift. As adult disciples who stand in their identity as images of God on earth – extensions of God’s mind, God’s heart, God’s hands, God’s feet. 

This is similar to the way he sends the apostles on mission. Even while Jesus was still on earth with the disciples, he sent them, at least twice, on mission without him. To announce his kingdom, to heal in his name, to cast out demons. He wanted to empower them. Wanted them to discover their nobility as ambassadors of his kingdom. As children of the Father’s love. Bearers of his dunamis and exousios, his power and authority. Witnesses to the nearness of the Kingdom. 

Jesus wants his disciples to be adults in faith. Men and women acting in faith. Entrepreneurs in faith. Creators and builders of places on earth that reflect the values and priorities of the kingdom of heaven. Poor in spirit, dependant on the Father, yes (that is the first Beatitude) yet mighty, bold, strong, courageous. 

Strong because full of a faith that is not just in themselves and their abilities but, deeper still, in the might of the Father in whose name they come, in whose person they stand. Like legates of a noble and good king, come to a vast, undeveloped land to bring the fruitfulness of order. Like a builder building, on flat land, a business he knows full well will flourish in bringing value to those who need its services. 

Strong on earth, poor before heaven. Like the centurion, but with the widow’s heart (cf. Mt 5:8-13 and Mk 12:41-44).

Prayer

Jesus, faith grows by being exercised. You call your disciples not to receive increased faith, but to exercise their faith. By putting faith in action, their faith will grow strong. You want your disciples to be men and women of faith on earth and children of the Father in poverty of heart. Strong on earth. Poor before heaven. Amen. I believe in you. Today I will do something; I will make an act of faith.

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