My attention stops on something the preacher says.
Turns its head.
Asks: “What did you say?”
The rest is forgotten.
Last Sunday, there came a moment in a prayer when the preacher said “it doesn’t matter if our faith weak or if it’s strong” – and my attention, moving right along there with the prayer, suddenly found its coat-sleeve caught on the doorknob of that phrase, jerked right back – “What did you say?”
I stayed transfixed on the thought: weak faith versus strong faith – what does that mean? Is it a viable distinction? Can faith be quantified?
Romans 14:1 “Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye . . .” But this refers not to whether the believer’s personal faith in Jesus burns bright or dim, is muscular or limp – it is about scrupulosity inhibiting freedom; about being weak in the faith, ie not yet established in the cultural/doctrinal norms of the new religion.
Strong faith or weak? Quantifiable?
Matthew 17:19-20. Equally puzzling.
Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and asked, ‘Why couldn’t we drive it out?’
He replied, ‘Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, 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.’
What’s odd here is that Jesus seems to contradict himself. First he identifies the problem as the diminutive size/amount of the disciples’ faith. Next he says, even if you have faith the size of a mustard seed (which in Mark 4:31 he calls ‘the smallest of all seeds on earth’) it’ll serve to move mountains.
What does Luke say?
The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’
He replied, ‘If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it will obey you.
Hmm. In this, it’s the disciples who regard faith as a size issue – Jesus says it’s about what you have (faith) not how much you have of it.
Yet in a number of places, Jesus comments on the great (or little) faith of those who turned to him – a quick and easy way to see this is to do a keyword search for ‘faith’ through the books of the New Testament on Bible Gateway – here.
In my explorations of Eckhart Tolle, my attention was caught by something he said about awakening – becoming enlightened. Rather wistfully his interviewer asked, having heard Eckhart's own story of being suddenly and permanently catapulted from chronic anxious depression into a permanent awakened state, what the rest of us could do to find our way into such a state of mind.
Tolle replied (my paraphrase) that if you have begun to long and to look and to search, you are already waking up – the process has begun. If you were not already awakening, the whole proposition would seem either laughable or completely opaque – nonsense.
Perhaps this is the ‘little faith’ – the grain of mustard that is not yet a plant; still waiting to be planted and nurtured and germinated into what it has the potential to be – but nonetheless, all mustard.
And then maybe the great faith is the daily practise of the wise and kind – those who have learned how to forgive, how to transcend what Paul calls ‘the flesh’ – the meaner, baser aspect, the egoic false self, the ‘life’ of self-interest that Jesus says we must lose (here and here)to enter the abundant life streaming from God that he offers us.
I have no idea whether my faith is great or small. I have no measure to hold against it, and I cannot see if it fluctuates or not – I think it does. But I do know that mustard has an unmistakeable flavour. I will follow the flavour and hope the amount will grow by itself.
By the way, there is no point in the photos I post here – they don’t mean anything. It’s just that I personally like pictures and am always disappointed if there aren’t any. I am wary of using the intellectual property of others, and it is just me, here in this small room. That’s why you get all these photos of . . . er . . . me, here in this small room.