“’Watch yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.’ The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’” (Lk 17: 3-6)
The apostles think they don’t have enough faith, to forgive so many times a day. So they appeal to the Lord: “Increase our faith!” And He responds with this perplexing lesson about a mustard-seed-sized faith, which can uproot “this sycamine tree,” (a familiar kind of tree, widespread in the Middle East, which the apostles could see right there, where the Lord was speaking with them), and force it to “be planted in the sea,” (where it would die, because a sycamine tree could not live “in the sea”). Why does our Lord compare true faith, – the kind that can forgive and forgive, – to uprooting and killing a “sycamine tree”?
First of all, it was a familiar kind of tree, as familiar to the apostles as resentments are to most people, against fellow human-beings. Second, the sycamine tree had very deep roots, (as do resentments), so it was difficult to kill (as are resentments). It tapped into water-sources deep in the earth, so even if you cut it to the ground, it could re-surface again and again, like a dandelion, because its roots were still fed by those deep water-sources. Third of all, the sycamine tree produced very bitter and pungent figs, which could only be eaten very slowly, one bit at a time. Nonetheless, they were eaten by poor people, just as resentments are “eaten” slowly, by those of us impoverished spiritually, when we are crippled by harboring resentments.
But here’s the good news: Just a little bit of “faith,” the size of a mustard-seed, can move a “sycamine tree,” roots and all, to its death in the “sea” of God’s mercy. By “faith” our Lord Jesus Christ means faith in the true God, Who can “handle” the issues I might have with the “repeat offenders” in my life, including me. When I hand all our issues over to Him, by just a little bit of faith; by letting God be God in my life today, and handing judgment and healing and providence over to Him, I can move on with my life “on land.” I can re-embrace the life-bringing kind of “Tree” that is the Cross of my vocation, and let the “sycamine trees” of my resentments rest, in the “sea” of God’s mercy.