Friday 6 January 2012

On great works of great faith

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.’

This isn't an easy verse.

Why, why is our faith so small? I've never moved a mountain; certainly even things I find rather more realistic are sometimes very difficult. I want to believe that nothing is impossible, but the balance of evidence seems to indicate that much is.

This verse seems to be saying "believe harder, have more faith, and things will work. And if they don't work, well, you just aren't believing hard enough!"

But I think that's not the point. I think that's something we read into the text.

I think faith is a gift, rather than an obligation. Oh, I'd make a rubbish Calvinist, to be sure. I don't get on with the idea of predestination, and the implications I think it has for free will. But the Spirit blows where it will, and some are given great faith and others none at all, and I think it is a mistake to tell ourselves that we can believe harder and somehow force ourselves to have greater faith. Rather, greater faith is something we pray for, and accept if it is granted. I'm reminded of Psalm 80 -- turn us again, O Lord, and we shall be saved -- and of Pharaoh's heart being hardened or softened by God.

What is actually required? Are we asked to have faith? Yes, actually. And the great works of great faith are held out, carrot-like. But we aren't told that we must have faith so great that it can move mountains. We're simply told to have faith in Christ, as a sort of extension of our faith in God. I say if we're listening, if we are giving these words any weight at all, that in itself is already an act of faith, however miniscule. So stop berating yourself for not having enough faith. You are a flawed and marvelous human being, a beloved child of God, and you do not have to be perfect.

What else are we told is required of us?

Love God. Love your neighbour as yourself. These two are so important that Jesus says they are the basis of the entire Law and Prophets -- the Law and Prophets being the bulk of Jewish biblical canon at the time. I try to do them and I fail every single day. It's that "flawed human being" thing again.

What else?

Eat, drink. Do this in remembrance of me. Gladly, though it isn't always easy.

Pray in this way.
I can just about handle this one, if what Jesus means is the formulaic pattern of the Lord's Prayer, which I have known so long I cannot remember learning it. But that business of forgiving others is quite sticky.

Judge not. This, too, is non-trivial. I can but try.

Love one another as I have loved you. That's a tall order; it applies to more than just washing one another's feet. He tells us to love one another as he loves us and then he goes and gets himself crucified! We're meant to follow the example. If this isn't daunting I don't know what is.

And yet...I have seen countless examples of what I can only call sacrificial love. I have heard the joy of judgments overturned, reconsidered. I have felt the warmth of forgiveness rising out of prayer and I have tasted sweet living remembrance, whether you want to call it sacrament or memorial, body and blood or bread and wine.

Are not all of these mountains moved?

1 comment:

Sipech said...

I've always circumvented the gift/obligation argument by supposing that the seed is a gift, but one that needs to be planted in good soil and nurtured.

I fear that some many fall in line (wrongly, I also beleive) with the thinking you outline in para 4. There are rare instances of people told to give up medicines and are told that their lack of healing is due solely to their lack of faith; though I think this is rarer than would be made out by the "religion is evil" crowd would have us believe.

I've always taken the "move moutains" as a metaphor, and been roundly chastised for it by some of the conservative crowd for my lack of faith. Literalist adherents can become obsessed with trying to do magic tricks which falls into the trap of the wicked and adulterous generation warning of Matt 12 & 16. Again, though, pointing this out doesn't always endear oneself to the the whole of a pentecostal church.

Then, on the other hand, you have the literalist crtics who cite this as an example of Jesus lying, since there has not been one recorded incident of faith actually having moved a mountain (what I tried to sum up in a tweet earlier).

Anyway, good post! ;-)