A bold request. “Increase our faith.” The apostles had just been warned about sin, particularly the dangers of leading others into sin. Realizing that one day they would be called to lead and to teach others, they likely felt inadequately equipped. So, logically, they asked for more than what had previously been given.
And Jesus grants their request, right? No. Why not? Because the seed of faith has already been planted in them; they already have the faith they need, even to do great things.
Being apostles, they have a faith in Jesus that has already compelled them to leave behind everything they knew; even if they struggled to accept that He was the Son of God, there was enough faith there to do amazing things. Jesus, instead of increasing their faith, encourages them to build upon the faith that is already present, a faith that can uproot trees or, in Matthew’s Gospel, move mountains. (Matt. 17:20) The faith that compels a person to follow Jesus is sufficient for great things; the more closely we follow Him, the more that faith grows. Faith is not, as the apostles seem to think, a source of fuel that must be replenished, or riches that must be repaid when spent; rather it is, indeed, a small seed planted in the heart and nourished on love, its roots impeded only by the hardness of the soil. (Matt. 13:1-9, 18-23) The more a heart yields to the roots, the more faith is able to grow. Trust, then, is like the plow that loosens the soil; when we trust Jesus we lay bare our hearts to the blade of circumstance, trusting that even if life breaks our hearts, the Gardener (John 20:15) will take His wounded hands and close the soil around the seed of our faith, where it now has rich, loose soil in which to spread its roots. Even if our mountains can be moved but a pebble at a time, they shall be moved.
Notice that Jesus connects faith with deeds; faith is not for its own sake. He tells us that a person with faith can do great things; He does not tell His followers simply to have faith and that is sufficient. Hence He speaks next about servants; the role of a servant is to serve the master. As our master, God is never indebted to us, and how could He be since all we have—indeed, all of who we are—we owe to Him? To be a creature and yet called to serve the Creator is its own reward, and He gives us every grace we need in order to carry out our duties as followers of Christ, as servants of the Divine King. This is why, at the end of our days, we hope not to hear a “Thank you” from God, but rather, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” (Matt. 25:21) Even the smallest faith, dedicated to His service, can serve Him well; what shall you do with yours?