If you had faith the size of a mustard seed

I would guess that nearly everybody on here has heard that passage at some point. I would also venture more so because it was part of the Gospel reading this past Sunday. I feel as though I’ve never understood this sentence, what He is trying to say there. Do we really have the power to do this that would go far beyond what we, as humans, can normally do, things that would seemingly go beyond the laws of the universe, if we had such faith as that? Or is He saying we really don’t have faith like that? Does God work as such? Where does faith really come from?

Of course, God does not promise us to replant a tree just because we believe He can do it. However, we are supposed to believe in the final result of God’s work - that He will grant us salvation and happiness, irrespective of anything bad happening in our lives.

As to the visible miracles, although God does not promise them, however, He will more likely make them for the people who believe in the miracles. This is why we hear more about miracles happening in the countries with strong faith, where miracles are not always met with hardcore skepticism. Jesus did not commit any miracle for Herod or for the Pharisees who mocked Him on the cross.

Faith is more than just asking and believing it will happen. Faith is a “doing” as well. It’s a committment to God’s kingdom.

As an example, who were the people who obtained miracles? Those who were committed to (the kingdom of) Christ which was brought about by their strong faith. It was those who had powerful charity as well as strong faith. Charity is the power needed to move mountains while faith makes it possible to ask for mountains to be moved.

Ever hear of a self-serving person moving mountains thru faith?
“…the heartfelt prayer of a good man works very powerfully.” James 4;16-17
“…dear to him is the prayer of honest men.” Proverbs 15:8
“…but he listens to the prayers of the virtuous.” Proverbs 15:29

All we need do is look at the life of Christ. When he performed a miracle it was often spoke of as “he was moved”, “he wept”, and so forth. His sorrow for others, charity, was the moving factor. And it was for the ordinary person hurting, and not for the upper echalon who were hard hearted toward other’s misery.

1 Samuel 16
God does not see as man sees; man looks at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.


Psalm 144
The Lord takes pity, his heart is merciful, he is patient and endlessly kind. The Lord is gentle to all – he shows his kindness to all his creation.

The “mountains” could be erroneous thoughts in the mind, or faults and sins not yet conquered.

…AND even addictions and suffering.


So how can I get my faith up to the level of a mustard seed? I think mine is at the “two molecule level”

This statement shows up in the other synoptic Gospels; here, it takes the form of a conditional statement. In terms of verb tense, it says “if you have”, as if it were a promise to people (‘if you do this, then you get that’). However, this is a conditional statement, and in Koine Greek, there are distinct meanings embodied in the way that the conditional is expressed. In this construction, the implication is that the “if” part of the statement is not true. (It’s as if Jesus had said, “if you were birds, you would be able to fly.” The force of the statement isn’t that “you would be able to fly” is true or not, but that “you are birds” is not true.) In other words, the force of the statement is that, in response to the request, “increase our faith”, Jesus is pointing out that they don’t really have faith (to be increased).

It’s a difficult exchange to contemplate for anyone who calls himself ‘Christian’. After all, wouldn’t each of us say “I have faith”? Yet, Jesus affirms that our faith is (at best) smaller than the smallest known seed. His challenge to us is to change our attitude: rather than patting ourselves on our backs and saying “we have faith”, He asks us to recognize that we’re just doing what we’re obliged to do. What a wake up call that is!

So, we’re being challenged to re-examine ourselves. Rather than congratulating ourselves on being straight-A students, we’re being asked to admit that we’re sliding by on the good graces of our professor for our passing grade. We are, after all, just doing what we’re required to do.

Humbling thought, no?

I have not yet looked at Church Father commentary on this passage (or the similar passages in the other gospels about faith moving mountains, etc.), but I will.

But before I do that, I’ll share my own thoughts on this.

  1. It sounds a bit like Jesus is chiding his disciples for having less faith than even would amount to the size of a mustard seed. It wouldn’t be the first time, after all: “O men of little faith!” But perhaps he is not saying “Your faith isn’t even the size of a mustard seed” but rather asking them, “With faith just the size of a mustard seed you could move trees (or mountains), so why do you think that your faith is so small as to need to be increased before it can be useful?”

  2. Look through the New Testament. How many occurrences of the disciples moving mountains or trees into the sea do you find? I’m pretty sure there’s none. I mean, a miracle in the natural order of that magnitude would warrant mention, right?! But notice, instead, what we do find recorded in the New Testament. Miracles of healing and resurrection, yes… but more than miracles in the natural order, we find miracles in the supernatural order: conversion of hardened sinners, Jews accepting their long-awaited Messiah, Gentiles entering into a covenant with the one God, bold preaching in the face of threats (and worse!), a growing Church. If the smallest faith can move mountains at the natural level, think of what it can do at the supernatural level.

First, we must understand that Faith originates and is Perfected by Christ.

Every single person in the world is called to this union of Faith.

However, each one of us finds and responds to God individually.

As we grow in our Faith (which entails submitting our will to God’s, living in Fellowship with Christ, becoming and active member of His Body, etc.) our abilities grow.

The example of the mustard seed is to facilitate our understanding of Faith–the mustard seed does not compare itself to the world around it but has the Faith of becoming a mustard plant (about 1 to 2 millimeters growing from 30 inches (762 millimeters) to about 20 feet (6092 millimeters) at maturity. In comparison, if our Faith were to be as that of the mustard seed we would, by the Power of God, be able to accomplish the impossible: Salvation: man allowing God’s Divinity to change him!

Superhuman abilities/functions? None could be accomplished by our “hidden” powers–'without Me, you are nothing…" (St. John 15:1-10)

Maran atha!


Hi, Dorothy!
I fully concur!

…how about hatred, racism, envy, egotism, supremacy… these, once entrenched in our hearts and minds, can become mountainous and the bedrock of our spiritual existence.

Maran atha!


Hi, Bob!
…heard the expression: “no pain, no gain?”

Just as the heart is that muscle that keeps the human body ticking, our Faith is a muscle that must be exercised!

Prayer (not just when we need/want something); Jesus, the Word Incarnate, never ceased being God; yet, as the Son of Man, He became an example to us submitting Himself to the Father in everything–including death on the cross. So we must submit to God our full existence–beginning with a life of prayer.

Get to know God; the Bible is only part of the story–Apostolic Teaching involves both the Oral and Written Word; we must become active members of Christ’s Body (the Church) studying and embracing Apostolic Teaching; as we mature in knowledge we become both evangelic and apologetic members of the Body of Christ.

Love; not only are we to Love God above all else but we are to demonstrate to God that we Love Him by loving ourselves and our neighbors; as a Follower of Christ that Love of God must translate to nurturing love of ourselves, our Brethren, and of all of mankind.

Work out our Salvation in fear and trembling; St. Paul was a high contender to the crown (using his Olympic reference)… yet, he never slacked up; he never ceased being a model–he even called us to emulate him as he emulated Christ. We must serve the Body of Christ by relying not on a sense of security (osas) but on our commitment to bring others to Christ through the preaching of the Gospel, and, as attributed to St. Francis, when necessary using words.

Maran atha!


Scripture scholars say context is everything:

1He said to His disciples, “It is inevitable that stumbling blocks come, but woe to him through whom they come! 2“It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea, than that he would cause one of these little ones to stumble. 3“Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. 4“And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
5The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and be planted in the sea’; and it would obey you.

  7“Which of you, having a slave plowing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come immediately and sit down to eat’? 8“But will he not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat, and properly clothe yourself and serve me while I eat and drink; and afterward you may eat and drink’? 9“He does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? 10“So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’”

I can’t help but think of St Therese of Lisieux.
Christ talks about the daunting task of forgiveness. The response of the apostles is to ask for an increase in the life of faith. We can all identify with that desire for more.
It seems that Christ is mildly rebuking their desire for inflation. Faith the size of a mustard seed is just as difficult as forgiving 70x7. The smallness of the seed is not less, it is more.

And Christ follows up with an analogy about a servant taking care of what’s in front of him.
Humility and smallness come to mind.
The Apostles ask for something large, and Christ directs them to small things.

I actually got some insight into this listening to the Catholic guy show from last Friday. Imagine if you went up to your employer and said give me a promotion and increase my salary. And then your boss said if you only had the salary of a millionaire you could go to any yacht builder and take any yacht and plant it in the sea. Well, his point was the Apostles had just done their work and were all thinking highly of themselves. And Jesus said when you do your work a servant shouldn’t expect any applause when he does what he is supposed to do. The Apostles went to Jesus saying increase our faith. And Jesus is saying if you had the faith of even a Mustard seed you could do these things. In a sense he is almost mocking them. They failed to understand what true faith is. We look to God to increase our faith, make us bigger and stronger. And he turns around and says all you need is a little faith and you can do great things.

We don’t need big faith in order to do big things. A little leaven works its way through the whole dough. A little faith can go a long ways. The kingdom of God is like a Mustard seed which starts as the smallest of all seeds, and then grows into a large tree. Often big things can come from humble beginnings. A little faith and trust in the Lord can carry us a long way.

The greatest mountain in our lives to be moved is ourselves.
God bless

I always understood it to be a comment about the lack of faith of those individuals (and ourselves). Jesus also makes frequent use of hyperbole in the Gospels, so I don’t know how literal he was being (though I don’t rule it out), or how faith can have an actual physical size.

I think the passage is not pointing to an increase.
We want more. I think Christ is telling us that more is less and less is more.
Christ refers to this less/more paradox throughout the Gospels.

The apostles ask for an increase. He brushes them aside in their desire for inflation.
If they are inflated they cannot fit through the eye of the needle. A mustard seed can.

Hi, Wesrock!
…I think it’s quantum physics… remember the stroll on water? When St. Peter’s Faith was fully focused on Jesus he was able to walk on water–his Faith that Jesus could share His Power was strong; however, as his attention veered off, St. Peter began to fear the elements more than the Faith he maintained on Jesus’ ability to protect him; his Faith dwindled to the point of submerging… it got so bad for this poor fisherman that he even forgot that he could swim as he called out to the Master 'help, I’m drowning!

In quite a tiny amount of time Faith degraded to almost nothing.

This is also seen in the passage of the woman who for twelve years suffered from some sort of bleeding–though she spent all her moneys on doctors none could provide a cure… yet, in the midst of the pressing crowds she alone received healing Power from touching the hem of Jesus’ garment. Her Faith in Jesus was quantifiably greater than all others who, while probably seeking some sort of healing/Blessing, pressed against Jesus but whose Faith was dimmed or almost none existent.

Maran atha!


There’s a question for you: what’s the half-life of faith?

Yes, and I thought Christ paid that price. He did the pain so I wouldn’t have to. Or is John 3:16 not what I think it is?

Faith is a muscle that must be exercised!

I believe faith is the 7th sense, which is a gift from God, a sense of knowing God (i.e. you know him personally and his personality). Not something that can be “exercised”

The rest of your answer is basically pulling a Nike and “just do it”

The problem is that I don’t now God well enough to trust him in all areas of my life. I can trust him with spiritual things, but temporal things he lets me down. For example, I’m unable to keep a steady job, nor am able to earn money regularly. But I have bills to pay, and a family to take care of, seems God doesn’t care about my temporal things. So how do I trust God in temporal things? I can’t. He let me down too many times.

Bonaventure used a gloss to instruct the Church on a meaning of the mustard seed, he said, “By a grain of mustard seed, which in itself is small in size, full of energy inside, huge in growth we understand the cooperation of free will relative to the capturing of the intellect, the kindling of the affections, and the multitude of good effects. Thus, the Interlinearis determines that they should seek faith of this kind, namely, humble and fervent, which would never be content that it had done well.” - “capturing of the intellect”, thus “Bringing every mind into the captivity to the obedience of Christ.” (2 Cor 10:5) - “the kindling of the affections”. thus “He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and being fervent in spirit, used to speak…whatever had to do with Jesus.” (Acts 18:25) - “multiple effects of good”, thus “The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed, which a person took and sowed…When it grows up, it is larger than all the herbs and become a tree.” (Mt 13:31, 32) (St. Bonaventure’s Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, Part 3, Franciscan Institute)

There are multiple senses that explain the mulberry tree being uprooted and placed in the sea: One “allegorical sense the command is understood with respect to the preaching of the cross and the evangelical sacraments.” He goes on to explain from a gloss that the increase of faith that the Apostle’s are indeed asking will be given as the (mulberry tree) preaching of the word from the nation of the Jews transplanted in the sea of the gentiles.