When they came to the crowd, a man came to him, knelt before him, and said, ‘Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; he often falls into the fire and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.’ Jesus answered, ‘You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.’ And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, ‘Why could we not cast it out?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your little faith. For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, “Move from here to there”, and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.’ – Matthew 17:14-20
I’m not sure what brought this passage to mind today, but it has stuck in my mind. When that happens to me, it generally means there’s something in there that I need to think about or “get.”
I don’t think I can be party to the healing a person with epilepsy. I know what to do if someone has a seizure, but beyond that, it’s a matter of waiting for the seizure to end. I learned that in EMT training decades ago and am reminded of it with every emergency medicine episode I watch on TV.
I’m sure Jesus was upset, not just at the man asking him to cure his son, but at the disciples who, after all their time with him, should have gotten it by now. Suppose a person wants to be a pilot on an airplane. In that case, that person relegate control to the First Officer when a mountain suddenly appears in the windscreen. If ever there were a time when one would literally want to move a mountain, I’d say that would be the time. Yet no one has succeeded in doing that yet.
Mountains are both literal and figurative. We love looking at the literal mountains, rough and rugged or old and smoother, topped with snow or sides covered with the multicolored leaves of fall. There’s something substantial about a mountain. Granted, rocks roll slide from time to time, or mudslides or avalanches come roaring down and smother paths. Still, we think of mountains as stable, and even sacred (like Moses on Sinai).
I like to think that Jesus is speaking about mountains of another sort – the rough places and challenging climbs we have to make in our individual lives. There are times when life seems to be nothing but a sheer cliff with no way to get up except to free climb using our hands and toes to find crevices in the rock and slowly and carefully make our way from one toe- or hand-hold to another until we reach the top or fall backward to our detriment.
For me, I know that most of this year has been a slog through an almost impenetrable swamp or a trip up Mount Everest without Sherpas or supplementary oxygen. The pandemic was bad enough but still manageable if I obeyed the rules about masks, distancing, and staying home as much as possible. Then came the folderol and fiddle de dee about the election races and their subsequently increasing violence, name-calling, finger-pointing, and accusations.
I refused to turn on my computer or watch any news this past Tuesday night and all day Wednesday. I spent the day reading, knitting, and watching streaming videos of favorite programs plus getting some housecleaning done. Thursday morning, when I got up, I did turn on the computer for the news and to see where we were in the madness. I realized that I felt a lot more cheerful, a lot more relaxed, and a lot more able to handle things that morning simply by having stayed away from the contention for those two days. Issues still weren’t resolved, races were still not entirely resolved, and talking heads were still talking. Still, it was easier to pass them by and look for pictures of cuddly kittens and the like. Perhaps the mountain I had created about all the negative stuff had gotten moved simply by not looking for them or feeling I had to climb them by myself.
If faith can move mountains, why can’t we do it? The disciples couldn’t, but perhaps it was because they were looking for mountains they could see instead of interior mountains (or perhaps molehills that seem to be mountainous). Maybe they were trying to move the wrong things?
Perhaps we see molehills as mountains. People can move molehills with shovels and a bit of hard work. Moving interior mountains can be a lot harder, simply because much of the time, it’s hard to judge the mountain’s size because our imagination inflates it to Godzilla-like proportions. Maybe we too are trying to move the wrong things in the wrong ways?
Things I learned from my brief sabbatical from network and print media are that it wasn’t as hard to do as I had thought. I had more time to do other, more productive things, and it gave me a much-needed breather.
I also noticed I had more time to listen to God. I think I’ve come to the decision that when it comes to media news, I’ll take God every time. God helps make the mountains manageable. I can deal with that, and besides, I don’t feel like throwing a shoe at the TV or launching a tirade when there’s something I can’t entirely agree with. God never lies or makes me want to punch something or someone. Now that is a providential mountain-mover.
Image: Moving Mountains, by Alfio Giuffrida/AG Sinnwerke, Postkartenedition 2002. Found on Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives in Avondale. Arizona, just outside of Phoenix.