A verse from today’s Gospel, Luke 17:6, “So the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

A mustard seed is symbolic of the type of faith we need because although it begins very small it is also very tenacious and can grow in very difficult circumstances. Blessed Augustine writes, “A mustard seed looks small. Nothing is less noteworthy to the sight, but nothing is stronger to the taste. What does that signify but the very great fervor and inner strength of faith in the church?” (SERMON 246.3)

The fathers take the mulberry tree to be symbolic of the works of the devil because its leaves were often eaten by worms (worms are often a symbol of hell (Mk. 9:42-48). As an example of this line of thought take St. John Chrysostom’s commentary on this passage, “The mulberry may be also compared to the devil, for as by the leaves of the mulberry tree certain worms are fed, so the devil, by the imaginations which proceed from him, is feeding for us a never dying worm; but this mulberry tree faith is able to pluck out of our souls, and plunge it into the deep.”

The rabbis also used mulberry trees in proverbs in a symbolic negative way of evil or particularly intractable problems because the extensive root system made mulberrys very difficult to remove.

Faith as a mustard seed
There is also symbolism in the mulberry being planted in the sea as Scripture often has the image of evil being destroyed in the sea (cf. Luke 8:33; Exodus 14:27; Mt. 21:21; Rev. 20:10).

What we have here is not a name it-Claim it type of promise but a promise that if we are tenacious in faith, even if our faith is small, we can overcome intractable difficulties and evils in our life and be freed from them.

Coming right after the command to forgive those who offend us, even if they do so often, and after the Apostles’ request to “Increase our faith” the promise seems to point to an inner work in the soul.

As St. Cyril of Alexandria explains in his Commentary on Luke, “They ask, “Add faith to us.” They do not ask simply for faith, for perhaps you might imagine them to be without faith. They rather ask Christ for an addition to their faith and to be strengthened in faith. Faith partly depends on us and partly is the gift of the divine grace. The beginning of faith depends on us and our maintaining confidence and faith in God with all our power. The confirmation and strength necessary for this comes from the divine grace. For that reason, since all things are possible with God, the Lord says that all things are possible for him who believes. The power that comes to us through faith is of God.”

With faith our faults (or, “mulberry trees”) can be cast into the sea (overcome) no matter how deeply rooted they are.

So, have a little faith already!

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