In contrast to Luke (in today’s gospel) Saint Matthew records Jesus saying that faith the size of a tiny mustard seed will move mountains—and not just a little mulberry tree! How tiny must our faith be, then, if even uprooting a mulberry tree and planting it in the sea is beyond us? Needless to say, faith has more important functions than uprooting trees or moving mountains and so we need to explore what Jesus might be wishing to tell us in using these graphic images.
Early explorers on this North American continent often had their progress halted or hindered by high mountains. Similarly, in our spiritual lives we all come up against obstacles that (like mountains) bar our way and impede our progress. So too, spiritual explorers venturing into the hidden depths of the heart seek to trace the deep roots of sin in order that these may be uprooted and no longer undermine the work of grace and sanctification.
The apostles’ plea that Jesus increase their faith, is one that we can surely echo since in our spiritual struggles the mountains don’t seem to budge, and the roots of sin resist all efforts at uprooting them. Jesus’ response, that all we need is faith the size of a mustard seed, may be experienced as discouraging. After all, because the mountain doesn’t seem to move or the mulberry tree be uprooted, our faith must be even smaller than a mustard seed!
This is, perhaps, to miss the point. What Jesus seems to be insisting on is that faith represents—and effects—an opening to the divine action in our lives. As such, faith involves an engagement of our free will and is the means by which we give God permission to intervene in our lives according to his will. This latter point is crucial. For, although we all desire God to help us in our need, we typically want to dictate the nature of that help instead of trusting and surrendering to his loving will which is always identical with our greatest good.
And so, faith is not so much the means whereby we do great things, but rather the spiritual mechanism by which we unblock the flow of God’s grace and power in our hearts and lives. And no matter how tiny the initial opening to grace, as God begins to work in our lives and we gradually grow in trust, what is first tiny becomes ever larger until grace and God’s action in our lives is totally unimpeded. So, let us not lose heart if our faith still seems smaller than a mustard seed. For, like Habakkuk’s vision, the fullness of faith still has its time, it presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.