Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Mountain & the Mustard Seed

The Mountain and the Mustard Seed

What are the three things most necessary to the Christian to do battle with evil? In today's Gospel reading from Matthew 17: 14-23, we are told that the three essentials are Faith, Prayer and Fasting. All three are the necessary pillars of our strength and our ability to overcome evil. But moreover, how much faith is necessary? The answer may surprise you. Let us contemplate the mountain and the mustard seed.

Jesus is approached by a man who kneels down in front of him and begs mercy for his son. We are told that the son suffers from a sickness; in this case epilepsy, and the father humbly begs for the healing of his son. Then, the father relates to Christ how His disciples were unable to cure his son.

The opening of this story tells us some very important things. In Scripture, sickness is often connected to activity of demonic origins. We are to gather that the son suffered his illness because of the agency of demons that were vexing him, causing him to thrash about and to fall into the fire often. The father kneels before Christ showing humility... but not necessarily Faith.  We can gather from the father's words that the disciples must have also lacked faith. They most certainly lacked faith in as much as what would have been needed to exorcise the demon from the afflicted son.

Christ rebukes the father because it is originally the father's lack of faith that has brought his son to such a perilous situation. In doing so, Christ publicly stands up for his disciples (although, He later rebukes them in private for their own lack of faith in dealing with the demon posessed man.) This serves as a lesson by example of how we should reprove and correct each other. Let us take it to the person in private first.

St. John Chrysostom tells us that this rebuke is directed at the nine apostles who could not cast out the demon. Whereas, the pillars of the Faith, Peter, James and John were not included because they had been on the mountain with Christ.

The disciples, being rebuked in private asked the Lord, why could this demon not be cast out by them? Christ tells them that the casting out of demons requires as a pre-requisite Faith, Prayer, and Fasting.  These are the pillars of our Christian practice. These are the most necessary of the person who follows Christ. We are literally to have the Faith in Christ to pick up our cross and follow Him. We forsake all other vain pursuits.  Prayer is the conversation that we have with the Father to build the bridge that we tread upon and to come closer to Him each day. I often say that God is infinitely far away but yet, is as intimately close to us as our next breath. When we pray, we bridge the gulf that exists between heaven and earth and we take part in a two way conversation. It is not a soliloquy or a one-sided conversation we are having. God answers in the most amazing ways. It is an ongoing dialogue, much like that between two good friends.

Fasting is the whetstone that hones the edge of our Faith. It is that which trains us to deny the flesh for the sake of the spirit. As the body becomes weak, the spirit becomes strong and clarity of vision is given to accomplish the work of the Lord.

These three things; Faith, prayer and fasting are absolutely necessary to engage in spiritual warfare. There is no healing without all three. In the Didache, the Fathers teach that both the person who is afflicted and the person who is performing the healing must have all three for the healing to be efficacious.

But how great a Faith must we have?

We are given the example of the mustard seed and the mountain. The mustard seed being the tiniest of seeds is meant to tell us that Faith... pure faith need only be possessed in a minute quantity in order to achieve monumental things. It sounds pretty simple really until one realizes that pure Faith is extremely difficult to come by. The exclamation, "Lord... I believe... Help my disbelief!!!" comes to mind. Great and pure faith occurs in the smallest of acts. But the small act is usually extraordinary in nature. The act of praying when it seems that such is the least that one can do, is actually a great sign of faith. It is the ability to put aside one's doubts and to embrace the seemingly impossible. To reach outside of our normal sphere to grasp onto the hand of Christ who has been waiting for such a moment all along, perhaps wondering what took you so long.

But such a rarified faith requires and demands a sacrifice of what we think we know and what we think that we have control over. To turn off worldly knowledge and approach the unknowable as a simple child would... in simple, pure faith.

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