And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to Jesus and kneeling before Him said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; for often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him.” And Jesus answered, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him here to Me.” And Jesus rebuked him, and the demon came out of him, and the boy was cured instantly. Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you.” As they were gathering in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” Matthew 17:14-23 (Gospel from the Tenth Sunday of Matthew)
I remember growing up in my home town of Whittier, California, on a clear day we could see the San Gabriel Mountains northeast of Los Angeles. In the summer they would be brown and in winter they would be covered in snow. I remember hearing today’s Gospel passage when I was probably eight or nine, and I thought, maybe if I pray hard enough, I could pick up these mountains and move them, the same way that Luke Skywalker, a Jedi Knight in the Star Wars movies could move rocks by using his mind.
No matter how hard I tried, thought or prayed, the mountains never moved. Now that I’m older, when I read today’s Gospel passage about faith moving mountains, I realize that this is a metaphor for life. The mustard seed is one of the smallest seeds there is, yet this seed produces one of the biggest trees. The lesson of this passage is that only a small amount of faith is needed to move a mountain. Notice the Gospel doesn’t say we can move a whole mountain range. Faith can move mountains.
What kind of mountains are we talking about? Mountains in geography are found in “ranges.” The Rocky Mountains split the United States into two pieces. East of the Rockies are the flat plains and west of them are the relatively flat states of Utah and Nevada. If you want to cross the United States, the journey is pretty easy until it comes time to pass through the mountains. Then the terrain gets steep and challenging. The idea of moving mountains means that with faith, we can clear aside or keep at bay the things that threaten our belief in God, our joy, our peace and our hope. Faith doesn’t move mountain ranges, but it can certainly help in moving mountains, or getting over mountains.
Faith doesn’t take care of all of life’s circumstances. Faith doesn’t necessarily make a poor person rich, or make a sick person whole again. It doesn’t necessarily save the old person from dying or get the young person into college. What faith does is it allows us to cope with the mountains we face by helping us to put life into perspective. The person of faith sees each challenge as a means to show God’s glory on the path to salvation. The person of faith sees each day as a gift. The person of faith sees each setback as an opportunity to grow. The person of faith faces mountains, but never feels like he faces them alone. The person of faith feels the presence of God, walks with God in the valleys, and allows God to carry Him through the mountain passes. Faith helps us conquer mountains of stress and sadness, pain and anxiety.
One doesn’t need to be a priest or a monk or a nun to be a person of faith. One doesn’t need to memorize the Bible or sing in the choir or teach Sunday School. If a person has even the smallest amount of faith, as a grain of a mustard seed, they will have what they need to negotiate the mountains of this life, so that they can reach the fertile fields of Paradise.
Over my years of ministry, I’ve had the opportunity to meet many people who have had deep faith, even faith much deeper than my own. Not all of these people have had material success, in fact some were very poor. Not all of these people lived to see old age – in fact several have died young. But what their faith brought them was an ability to see God even in the challenges of the mountains of their lives. And to give glory to Him along the way to negotiating them. Faith indeed can move a mountain. And even faith as small as a grain of mustard seed is all you need to begin your journey to conquer your mountain.
When Gabriel had uttered rejoice to you, O Virgin, then with the voice was the Lord of all becoming incarnate in you whom the holy Ark of old prefigured, as righteous David said. You carried your Creator and proved to be more spacious than the heavens. Glory to Him who dwelt inside of you; glory to Him who came forth from You; glory be to Him who through your childbirth has set us free. (Resurrectional Theotokion, First Tone, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Go at your mountain with faith today!