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(Part 51)


August 11, 2018
Today’s gospel: Matthew 17:14-20

God works in and through His people, especially His anointed servants. Because we do God’s divine work in the power of His Spirit, our work should be accompanied by signs and wonders, which point to God’s greatness.

Jesus healed the sick and drove out demons. He commissioned and empowered the apostles and disciples to do the same, which they were able to do. But this time they were unable to cure the boy with a demon. The reason? According to Jesus, “Because of your little faith.” (v.20a). The apostles lacked faith?

Jesus then said, “Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (v.20b). Wow. If a mustard seed of faith can move mountains, what could greater faith accomplish?

This episode can teach us why many Christians, including servant leaders, are today weak and not very effective, at least not in the way God intends for them to be, as He destines them for greatness. We have faith, don’t we? Then why is our evangelization stalled? Why is there dissent and disunity in the community? Why is the Church losing Catholics by the day? Why is the world, where Christians live and work, being overwhelmed by a tsunami of evil?

The faith that Jesus speaks of here is not just believing faith, which is basic. This is faith whereby we accept Jesus as our Lord. The faith that moves mountains is something else.

This faith is first of all a faith that realizes our calling in Christ. Many Christians today are just Christians nominally or culturally. Do they really know who and what a Christian is? That he is priest, king and prophet? That he continues with the divine work of God in the world? Jesus said to the disciples, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?” (v.17a). He was exasperated. He had been teaching them and training them all this time. He had sent them out on practicum. He had just told them about his coming passion and death (see Mt 16:21). His time was near. He would no longer be with them. Did they yet grasp the mission to be entrusted to them? That was the faith that mattered.

Secondly, this faith is a faith that recognizes a Christian’s engagement in spiritual warfare. The work entrusted to disciples would thrust them into direct confrontation with evil forces. Many Christians today are invested in social justice issues, while violating principles of the culture of life. Don’t they realize that most important is the spiritual dimension, that even the social dimension derives from the spiritual? So in this case, the father of the boy said to Jesus, “Lord, have pity on my son, for he is a lunatic and suffers severely; …. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him.” (v.15-16). How did Jesus handle the situation? “Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him” (v.18a). The disciples only saw the epilepsy of the boy and tried to address that (they indeed were empowered to heal the sick). But the epilepsy was just a result of demonic possession. They failed to address this aspect. But the commission to heal the sick and drive out demons go together. What is wrong in the world is ultimately the work of the evil one. We need to address not just outward manifestations (poverty, crime, pollution, corruption, etc.) but more especially the works of the enemy. Our Church is a missionary Church engaged in evangelization which thrusts us into spiritual warfare. Such is authentic faith.

Thirdly, this faith, since it is about living the life of Christ and doing his works, is a faith of a true disciple. Many Christians today are nominal, cultural and/or secular. Do they realize that the call is to holiness and Christian perfection? To self-denial and embrace of the cross? To losing one’s life for Jesus’ sake? Jesus had just taught them the conditions of discipleship (see Mt 16:24-26). How many Christians today, including servant leaders, are embracing the cross of Christ? If Christians do not follow strictly in the path of Jesus, how can they experience his power to move mountains?

Fourthly, this faith is a faith that not just looks to the glory but to the passion. Peter, James and John had just witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus (see Mt 17:1-3). It was glorious, with even Moses and Elijah appearing. Peter was exhilarated, and offered to build tents for them on the mountain. Did he want to just stay there? Was this now the opportunity for James and John to sit at the right and left of Jesus in his glory (which together with their mother they would request of Jesus later)? But they needed to come down from the mountain and back into the real world. Jesus needed to come into his passion. Did not Peter rebuke Jesus for saying he would suffer and be killed? (see Mt 16:21-22). For this Jesus called him Satan! We are called to embrace the cross. There will be lots of glorious moments in ministry, but we must never lose track of the authentic gospel, which is a gospel of the cross. Jesus crushed the head of the serpent on the cross, and it is in the cross of Christ that we experience God’s power. Such is mountain-moving faith.

So it is not so much a question of how big our faith is, but rather, what kind of faith do we have. Even with a mustard seed of faith, the right kind that is, we can move mountains. Through life we will grow steadily in faith, but it has to be a faith based on the right understanding of the ways of God, and what our calling truly is.

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