Recently a friend of mine got me thinking about faith-as-small-as-a-mustard-seed moving mountains because we sing:
Si tuvieras fe como grano de mostaza
Eso lo dice el Senor
Tu le dirias a la montana
Esa montana se movera, se movera, se movera
Shouldn’t this song come with a warning label? Something like: “We don’t really think this is true?” Or “No mountains were injured in the writing of this song?”
Why does Jesus say, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20) if He doesn’t really mean it?
That’s a good question. It is an especially good question if you were taught all your life that the Bible was feeding you the kind of truth that the philosophy of our day considers truth, namely, that something you can test out and see repeated when you try it again is true. If the formula says mountains will be moved and they aren’t moved, it is not true. Sometimes that is called “literal” truth, like whatever gets written down and can be proved by someone else is what is true. I think Jesus speaks a deeper truth than that surface truth.
But Matthew 17 is very confusing for “literalists.” I feel their pain. First Jesus is up on the Mount of Transfiguration revealing to his inner circle that there is just a thin veil between His Father’s dimension and our own — but that the dimensions are very different. Then he announces his impending resurrection. Then they come down the mountain and he completes an exorcism that his other disciples could not do. And why can’t they do it? They don’t have enough faith. It is a wild chapter.
Perhaps we should live in this chapter until we understand it and stop basing our ideas of faith on things we can already understand and do, like being nice, or applying moral principles or acting on a stripped-down methodology that passes for being forgiven of our sins. (I digress…with hope in my heart).
Many people come away from what Jesus says about not having enough faith looking for a formula for getting enough faith. But I think the whole point of his statement is not about what we lack, it is about what we don’t lack. He is ultimately being very positive — realistic about us, but full of hope. Yes, Jesus is as frustrated as we are that we have less spiritual capability than we ought to. But even if we rely on Him just a little, his work of death and resurrection allows even the little faith we have to do things that were previously unimaginable.
When I sing, “Muevete!” I am expressing my hope in Jesus, not taking on the ultimate challenge to prove Jesus worthy of worship by my miraculous excavating. Obviously, Jesus is not rearranging the planet for his convenience, either, so he must not mean for us to look for faith that is mustard-seed size somewhere in our inner being and prove his validity as a Savior and our value as followers by moving Mt. Everest to Beijing. Some people give up on the Bible because that isn’t happening and say, “The Book just plain contradicts itself!” But I wish they’d soak in it long enough to see what’s really happening.
When there is a surface meaning that isn’t working for us, we do need to argue it out until we can receive its deeper content. Ignoring or reducing things we can’t understand keeps us infantile. Being content to endlessly argue keeps us adolescent. Working with the risen Lord to experience something of what his inner circle did on the Mt. of Transfiguration is better. Rather than focusing on how mountains are not literally moved, or on “how much faith is enough to cast out a demon,” I think we should rejoice in what the-little-faith-we-have has done in us and through us that would have been unimaginable without it.
For instance, that we should believe any parts of Matthew 17 as true must be an act of God-with-us. That we want to ponder and even argue about who Jesus is and what he did surely could only be the Spirit of God drawing us. That we know we are forgiven and destined for an eternity of connection with our creator is a big change. That we care whether we have enough faith to make a difference is a conviction only a Spirit-changed heart would have. That people continue to be comforted, saved from self-destruction, and energized to foment justice and hope by their faith in Jesus is just what Jesus was predicting, wouldn’t you say?
Not satisfied without a mountain being moved? I am not sure you are respecting the faith that causes such discontent, but who knows what will happen next?