(a weekly post reflecting on the weekend)
The Text-Matthew 17:14-21
Jesus comes down from the mountain top back into the mess. Many of us can relate. We’ve gone to the mountain, moving into closer proximity with God (e.g. a personal retreat, time away), and now we find ourselves back in the realities of life. The chaos in this story involves desperate people, impacted by an awful evil, and an ineffectual church that can seemly do nothing about it. The problem boils down to people limited by their smallness of faith. The solution is people with smallness of faith—faith the size of a mustard seed, that can do extraordinary things.
On the surface, this text seems to contradict itself. Small faith is solved by small faith. How can this make any sense? It requires a clearer understanding of faith. And I discovered that this is not so easy. Faith is not a simple subject. The temptation is to challenge people to have more faith, particularly if their mountains are not moving. But this is the easy way out. People might be temporarily inspired, but set up to lose their faith in the end when things don’t change. Something more is being said in this story.
I thought a lot about this passage this week. I have seen so many Christians disappointed, thinking their faith would change things. I have brought numerous needs to God that I have prayed over, believing God will answer, but nothing happens. Is it because I need more faith? Is God waiting for something to increase in my life before He does anything? The disciples in this story wanted to know, just as I want to know.
Here’s what I learned. Little faith is faith that is driven out by fear, or faith so anemic it is barely seen. This is obvious, but here is what is less obvious–little faith is also faith that is misdirected and/or misplaced. Little faith goes something like this: I want God to do this (heal my friend, give me this job, bring me this relationship, provide for my son…), and I want it so much it morphs into an assumption God wants this as well, and I begin to base my faith on this. But this is a SET UP! And Christians do this all of the time. On the other side, mustard seed type faith is faith fed by Word (faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God-Rom 10:17). It is faith based on God’s clear promises (not want we assume), and it is ultimately focused on God and His will. In other words, it’s not the size of our faith so much as it is Who you are placing your faith in and what He has clearly revealed. When we pray according to the character of God and the clearly revealed will of God, this kind of faith has the potential to do the impossible. But this requires spending significant time with Him.
Resources were harder to come by. Not many writers have written great books on faith, but here are some that helped: Faith & Doubt, Ortberg; , Small Faith, Great God, NT Wright; Seizing your Divine Moment, McManus
The commentaries particularly helpful this week. The Gospel of Matthew, France; Matthew, Bruner; The Gospel According to Mark, Edwards
Given the responses and my own experience, I will go with three out of four.