Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.”
When Jesus wanted to create a picture of the potential of faith, he chose the arduous process of uprooting a tree. Jesus regularly drew teaching examples from his environment, but a tree seems odd for this particular teaching. We like to think of faith solving the world’s greatest problems — poverty, slavery, cancer, mental illness — not performing the tasks of an arborist.
The other image in this teaching is curious as well. The sea is an symbol of chaos and death in ancient Jewish culture. In Jesus’ day the sea was a place of tremendous risk and danger. Everyone knew someone who had gone out to sea and never returned.
“Jesus is not giving us some bizarre image of the impossible,” says Oxford’s Religion and Science Research Director, Andrew Pinset. The story is neither a inspirational image of faith or a condemnation for lack of it (for who has ever been able to use faith to cast a tree into the sea).
The story is about Christ himself. Pinset continues, “Jesus Christ, the mulberry tree, which has being maturing for over a thousand years in the spiritual soil of Israel, will be uprooted and re-planted in the bitter, salt water chaos of paganism.”
A mulberry tree is an image of life. Mulberries start out white and turn blood red when they ripen. Each tree’s root system is vast and complex — taking up to three years to develop to the point where the tree can bear its full fruit.
The New Testament’s writers insist that our world’s greatest problems are solved by faith. Jesus taught that it is not the amount of faith — indeed, it could be as small as a mustard seed — but by the object of our faith that saves.
Christ planted himself in the depths of chaos and evil in our world. He obeyed his father to the point of death and gave his blood to calm the waters in which we suffer.
Father, we long for the day that evil, chaos, and death are rebuked and all they have taken is restored. Let us look to you as the one who calms the waters. We pray, as your disciples did, that you would increase our faith.
Images of Faith
Part 2 of 5, read more on TheParkForum.org