As I was reading the Eucharistic gospel for today, I read the part about the man who brought his epileptic son to Jesus because the disciples couldn’t heal him. Jesus sounded a little terse because the disciples didn’t seem to catch on the way they were supposed to. Jesus, however, spoke more gently to the father and healed the boy instantly. That appeared to wrap that part of the story up very neatly with the crowd, the father, and the son having a happy ending.
Then I read about the disciples wondering why they couldn’t do that? Jesus wasted no time telling them it was because they had very little faith. That was part of Jesus’s whole message. Faith was and is a necessary component in making things happen. The disciples simply didn’t seem to get it.
Jesus then went on to talk about faith moving mountains. It’s a familiar story, and a saying we hear fairly frequently. “If you have the faith the size of a mustard seed…” A mustard seed isn’t tiny, but it’s undoubtedly not a coconut. It represents something little, much as Julian of Norwich’s hazelnut represented a whole world in her vision. It didn’t take a lot of faith, but it took a solid faith, and I think that was Jesus’s point.
I sometimes wonder if things don’t happen because we either lack enough faith, have a belief that isn’t solid enough, or maybe something else? Lord knows we’ve asked for people to be healed or even cured, and nothing seems to happen. We simply sigh and say, “Well, it must have been God’s will.” Was it? Really?
When I think of things that are going on right now, the shootings, the stabbings, the deaths of children, the painful and fatal diseases, the traumas of losing children and parents, it makes me wonder how anyone can say that a loving God wills things like this to happen. All those scenarios seem to be huge mountains, and we don’t seem to have enough faith to move it, even if we were able.
Having faith doesn’t mean that I should sit in my comfortable rocking chair and focus my mind on moving Mount St Helens to the desert just outside of Phoenix. What would be the point of that? What would be the point of moving anything? I think it deals with something other than relative size. If I take a mustard seed out of the container in my spice cabinet and hold it up to my eye and look across the horizon to the Mogollon Rim about 200 km away, they seem relative in size even though I know the Rim is immensely more substantial than that mustard seed. I need to move the mustard seed out of my line of sight, my eyes from the mountains and concentrate on what is doable, reasonable, helpful, useful, and that needs doing? Then I start looking at problems through a different set of lenses.
I may not be able to cure cancer (I know I couldn’t heal my own), so I put my faith in my surgeon and my oncologist. I just left the rest up to God. That was the only thing I could do. I have friends with dementia and Alzheimer’s, and I want so much for them to be cured because they are dear to me. I need them in my life. I don’t want to lose them but lose them I will, whether it’s through physical death or just the ravages of disease. I wish I had faith enough to cure them. I guess my point to myself is to ask how I can judge the disciples for not having enough faith when I have to confess that I don’t have enough faith either?
I think each of us has to look around and find things that we can help change. Perhaps it is doing something like helping at the food bank, or rocking newborn babies born addicted to drugs to help comfort them and make them feel safe in a world that they don’t understand and that is extremely painful for them. Maybe it’s knitting a shawl for someone who could wrap it around themselves when they need a hug but there no human arms around to give one when they need it, or praying for someone in pain or need. Maybe those don’t require a lot of faith, but it does put it in action. It’s a way of loving my neighbor as myself, attempting to help in a way that I’m able and that will benefit them. Perhaps the mountain I need to move is my own weak faith.
I may never be able to reread this passage without thinking about mustard seeds and mountains and comparing them in the light of the amount of faith required. Jesus said if we had that much faith, we could do anything. Maybe I need to stop trying to move Mount St Helens and get rid of an anthill in the front yard, or reach out and hug someone in pain, or give a cup of cold water to someone who is outside in the desert heat and in genuine danger of dying through dehydration. Maybe the difference is removing things (like beams in my own eye) rather than a mountain that has no need (or perhaps desire) to be moved in the first place.
What are your mountains, and how can you move them?
Image: Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument from Johnston Ridge Observatory, July 28, 2018, Author Reywas92. Found at 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 is owned by Dominic, Gandhi, and Phoebe, who keep her busy and frequently highly amused.