Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | September 25, 2016

Greek conditional sentences and mustard seed faith

There are a lot of things in the news these days that stretch our faith. Shootings. Bombings. Racism. Xenophobia. A horribly contentious presidential election.

It would take an unimaginable kind of faith to make a difference.

The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you. [from Luke 17]

(The parallel passage in the Gospel of Mark says that the faithful can move mountains. As if moving trees were not difficult enough.)

What can that possibly mean when planting trees in the sea is not in our experience?

A grain of mustard is a tiny round seed. Do we not even have that much?  Is Jesus condemning the disciples and us for not believing even the least little bit?

Actually, the meaning is far from that. This is intended to be an encouraging statement, though it sounds just the opposite to our ears.

One of my favorite learnings from those long-ago-and-far-away Greek classes was about conditional sentences. This particular saying in Luke 17 demonstrates a “condition according to fact.”

The way we usually interpret it in English is, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed you could move this tree. Since you can’t move the tree, you obviously don’t have very much faith.”

Instead, a Greek speaker would have heard: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed —and you do, then you must act on it and you’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.”

That’s quite different, isn’t it?

Jesus is not condemning us.  He is encouraging us to act on the faith we have, no matter how tiny we think it is.

The smallest amount of faith is effective, if we act on it.

People of faith, when we act on our faith, can plant trees in the sea and move mountains. We can address racism and white privilege. We can refuse to allow people to be excluded or bullied. We can effect change.

We have enough faith. We just have to exercise it. Let’s go plant some trees in the sea.img_5725-copyright-low

© 2016, Melissa Bane Sevier


  1. Your writings always give me inspiration and encourages introspection. Thank you

  2. Thanks, Sue.

  3. Thanks for the great encouragement, Melissa!

  4. […] They are looking for something to increase their faith, and Jesus reminds them that they already have enough faith. [See my blog about that Greek syntax here.] […]

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