Blog # 468 We believe...
On one occasion after Jesus told his disciples that if a brother sinned, then repented, and did this seven times a day, they should forgive him, the disciples said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." Jesus answered: "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, 'Be uprooted and transplanted into the sea', and it would obey you." (Lk. 17: 5 - 10).
Did Jesus really mean it when he said with faith you could uproot a sycamore tree and have it planted in the ocean? Certainly ! The catch is the phrase: with faith. If God told us to say such a thing to a sycamore tree, and we did, it would be done. Yes!
Scholars agree Jesus said what he did as an extreme example of the power of faith and the trustworthiness of God, but also what he said was, and is, true. We can depend that much upon God. We can believe that strongly. God is absolutely trustworthy, including all that we can imagine of trustworthiness, and beyond. It is a notion that relates to the Hebrew word 'emunah'.
I remember one of our Scripture professors back in the seminary taking almost an entire class to explain and comment upon this single Hebrew word. He loved the Hebrew texts of the Scriptures and was always eager to share his love and enthusiasm with us. He was afraid we would miss the richness of the original texts in the translations we knew. His translation of emunah was 'steadfast loyalty', holding on in obedience to Yahweh's law of truth, even when it was not the popular or easy
thing to do, holding on in thick or thin, always, everywhere, publicly or in private, to the end. All God's promises would be fulfilled. Yahweh is absolutely trustworthy. The sun is shining even behind the darkest clouds. When it is night time in Cincinnati, it is morning in Hong Kong. The reliability of the sun is but a shadow of God's trustworthiness. For faith, a sycamore tree has shallow roots!
Part of the grace of reflecting upon the short passage we have considered from Luke's seventeenth Chapter during the octave of Easter is the invitation it gives to examine the notion and place of faith in our relationships with God, the world, and one another. Any hope or experience of sharing in the resurrection of Jesus and our own resurrection is based on faith. It is only the beginning, but it is the beginning and is altogether necessary in order to begin.
Gold and silver are precious metals. A diamond is a precious stone. They can be used in trade to buy food, clothing, shelter. But in themselves they are not capable of nourishing or keeping us warm. A similar thing could be said of faith as an ingredient in our pursuit of peace and happiness. Faith is a tool, a basic building block, that is capable of influencing a person's entire life. In itself, however, faith could be, as the Apostle James said :'dead'. Used in trade, faith is valuable, necessary, and a thing of beauty.
Are there degrees of faith? Is someone who does not believe necessarily a sinner? How does such a person differ from someone who believes? What does Jesus say of faith? These and similar questions are helpful if we are to make adequate or full use of the gift of faith within us. Many people seem to rely heavily on feelings when it comes to their relationships with God. Genuine faith
is based upon truth and our response to that truth, in freedom, leading to love.
Recently I heard of the death of a friend at the age of 87. By faith we accept and acclaim that somehow, according to God's promise he is yet alive. This seems to be a stronger challenge to faith than to say a sycamore tree was planted by faith in the ocean. Yet we say it. We believe. What a wonderful tribute our faith is to God's goodness and God's power shared with us!
Although faith is to have an effect on our behavior and calls us to action, it does not call us to pride in what we do, but in the to truth of it. We are not called to do God a favor in what we are called to do. God can place His sycamore trees wherever He wills them to be, without us. We are called, each of us to be where we belong, in that unique place where God wants us to be planted, in the truth about ourselves, in the peace and joy that comes from knowing and doing God's will, the peace and joy that begins with faith and continues on to our resurrection from the dead and eternal life.