Summary: Christ teaches us that our faith, however small it may be, is very much alive, very active and powerful! He compares the growth of our faith to the raising of a tiny mustard seed. If we keep it alive and nature it, we can move mountains with it.
Our Gospel reading this morning deals with the topic of faith. Last Sunday St. Matthew told us about Simon Peter’s faith and his momentary loss of it when he took his eyes off Jesus. In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells us that the strength of our faith determines our ability to overcome evil. I mentioned last week that even if we have a small particle of faith, it could move mountains. In a similar vein, today Matthew affirms that if we had faith as small as a mustard seed, it would be enough to move mountains.
Christ teaches us that our faith, however small it may be, is very much alive, very active and powerful! He compares the growth of our faith to the raising of a tiny mustard seed. When we plant and nurture that tiny seed, it will produce a tree so tall that the birds of the air will be able to nest in it. That is how our faith must grow and develop. We must never allow it to lie dormant after we have planted it. Christ tells us if we keep it alive and nature it, we can move mountains with it.
Could there be a hidden meaning in Jesus’ words that by our faith we would be able to move mountains from one place to another? We know that no matter how much faith we have we will not be able to physically pick up Mount Everest by our own strength and move it. It‘s physically impossible! So, let us consider for a moment that Jesus was not talking about physical mountains, but rather the many sins that we amass in our lifetime. These can grow to mountainous size if we don’t do something about them. Let’s assume that He was talking about those things that separate us from God. If we have faith in God, we can very easily make those mountains move into the abyss of refuse. However, it can happen only with the help of God’s grace that we receive every time we attend a Church service. Through confession, reconciliation, and partaking of the Holy Eucharist, we are able to break down these cold and dark mountains of sin and pride and remove the barriers that keep us separated from God.
So, why couldn’t the Disciples cure the epileptic boy? They were with Jesus constantly. They watched Him perform miracles and proclaimed He was the Son of God. It’s because they were unable to move those huge mountains of sin in their lives. They still had a distance to go before the Holy Spirit, which Jesus would bestow upon them after His Ascension, would be able to move through them without hindrance. So, Jesus gently chastises them when they asked Him why they were unable to cure the boy. Jesus said to them it’s, “Because you have so little faith!” (Matthew 17:20 TNJB) He made this comment in order to humble them. Then He tells His disciples about prayer and fasting, the most powerful means to strengthen their faith.
But, what does it mean to have faith? Is faith the same as belief? Is faith something we can manipulate with our minds? St. James writes in his epistle that “...even the demons believe and tremble,” (James 2:19). However, this kind of “belief” doesn’t lead to salvation because it’s not faith. So then, what is faith?
The dictionary defines faith as a “Trust in God and in His promises as made through Christ and the Scriptures by which humans are justified and saved.” We have faith when we allow Jesus to come into our hearts not strictly by words and ideas, but by contemplation. St. Basil describes the ascent to God by liberating our thoughts from corporeality and temporality and raise our souls to the One who completely transcends the cosmos. He writes, “Now if you want to say or hear something about God, break free from your body, break free from your sense perceptions,… Once you have flown past all these things, transcended the entire created order in your thoughts, and raised your intellect far beyond these,… contemplate the divine nature: uncircumscribed greatness, super eminent glory, desirable goodness, extraordinary beauty that ravishes the soul pierced by it but that cannot be worthily expressed in speech.” (Fide 1) In other words, your first step is to unite with God.
Faith is a gift given by God to those who go to confession, and purify their hearts. It come to those who, Like Mary the sister of Lazarus, have learned to sit at the Lord’s feet in silence and desire to learn from Him the secrets of life.
Faith is the rising within us of the rivers of living water promised by Christ to those who have, as St. Seraphim of Sarov so beautifully taught, acquired the Holy Spirit. Faith is released in us from the depths of our souls when we have taken out the garbage that obstructs the image and let go of everything that is unhelpful, unloving and unhealthy.