Originally posted July 20, 2011, at Bishop Mike. Republished with permission of the author.
Jesus compares the kingdom to a mustard seed: tiny, but with great power and potential. He compares the kingdom to things that grow, like seeds and yeast. This is one of two places where the mustard seed crops up in Matthew.
Jesus is always calling the disciples “oligopistoi,” which means literally “little-faith-ones” or “littlefaithers.” It gets rendered “ye of little faith” or “you of little faith.” It begins with this passage from the Sermon on the Mount:
“But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you — you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:30) Trust is important to Jesus.
But sometimes it sounds like a put-down to me. In Matthew 14:31, Jesus chides Peter, who is walking on water, for losing faith and sinking: “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’”
In the long run, however, it turns out you don’t need much faith. If you have only the faith of a mustard seed, apparently you can move mountains:
“For truly I tell 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; and nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20).
Whenever I read this passage I always remind people that the “you” here is plural. “Y’all.” Jesus is not promising a platform for personal power through prayer.
It may be a remarkable affirmation of the power of unity. When people come together and agree on something in prayer, however small their faith, mountains move.
This saying of Jesus about faith to move mountains must have been important. It almost certainly floated around as a free oral saying of Jesus’, long before the Gospels were written.
Paul quotes it in 1 Corinthians 13, three or four decades before Matthew wrote his Gospel: “and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing” (v. 2). Makes me wonder what sayings of Jesus Paul knew.
It also reminds me that for James, faith without works is dead, but for Paul, faith without love is dead. Faith for faith’s sake can, in fact, be dangerous. It leads to inquisitions and crusades. Faith for love’s sake is what really matters.
So if you feel your faith is small like a mustard seed, fret not. It just might be enough.
Find a link to Michael Rinehart’s blog Bishop Mike at Lutheran Blogs.