“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.” - Jesus in Matthew 17:20b
Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world. - Archimedes
This quote from Matthew’s Gospel follows a story we heard in part during worship in June. It is the story of a young man with a crippling seizure disorder. Of course, at the time of Jesus, everyone interpreted his ailment as demonic possession. At any rate, the boy’s father comes before the disciples and asks them to cure the boy, to cast out the demon. They try, unsuccessfully, and eventually bring the father to Jesus. After an important conversation (which we thought about on Father’s Day), Jesus proclaims the boy cured. The disciples ask Jesus why they were unable to cast out this particular demon. Jesus’ reply is startling, “Because of your little faith.”
I don’t know about you, but I have often heard a similar phrase wielded by people of faith to criticize people who are suffering. “If you had enough faith then, (whatever) wouldn’t have happened.” “If you had truly believed, then you would have received what you prayed for.” The list goes on.
While that is a valid interpretation of what Jesus says in this verse, I don’t believe it fits with the rest of the story of who Jesus was. So for me, it makes MUCH more sense if we change the focus of Jesus’ judgment from the quantity of the disciples’ faith to the object of their faith. Again, I believe Archimedes helps us here. See, Archimedes was an early physicist talking about the force needed to move an object. But, as with many in his day, science and philosophy were not discrete areas of thought. Instead, science informed philosophy and vice versa.
If you have ever tried to lift a heavy object, you have probably applied the physics to which Archimedes refers. For example, using a hydraulic jack to lift a car uses this same principle, as does using a “cheater bar” to gain enough leverage to loosen a particularly stubborn bolt. Archimedes takes this physical principle, applies it to a philosophical problem, and concludes that anything is possible with enough leverage.
I think Jesus says the same thing in a different way. The disciples used the wrong fulcrum and the wrong lever in their attempt to free the boy from his affliction. The lever is faith, and the fulcrum is where that faith is placed. When the disciples tried to cure the boy, they had plenty of faith, plenty of force. However, they tried to lift a heavy burden all on their own. Jesus tells them (and us) that we do not need massive amounts of faith if we choose the right lever and fulcrum.
If the force of our faith is applied on the lever of God’s love for us over the fulcrum of God’s faithfulness, then nothing is impossible. This is true even if that faith is as seemingly insignificant as a mustard seed.
I won’t sit here and tell you that nothing bad will ever happen in your life. But, unfortunately, there are times when our prayers can and will go unanswered. That does not mean that we do not have enough faith or even that we are misapplying it. It simply means the mountain which we are moving is the accumulation of our expectations. But, the force of our faith, combined with the fulcrum of God’s faithfulness and the lever of God’s love for us all, can do more than move mountains. It can do more than move the earth. It can transform the universe (even if only by small increments) ever more into God’s beloved community, where all people are treated with love and respect, grace and mercy, forgiveness and humility. Even the tiniest morsel of faith can and will help to build God’s beloved community here, in our midst. So, let’s go, and change the world together.