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)
All of this Lenten off-loading and sorting-out has me surrounded by tall piles of junk. Here’s my short temper, and over there is my pride, and next to that, my knee-jerk negativity toward people who—in my unqualified estimation—have no clue about what’s going on in the world. Night before last I was at they gym, going through my treadmill paces, as one of those “Real Housewives” shows played on the overhead TV. I was listening to gospel music on my iPod and couldn’t hear a word they said. But just from the look of them, I decided I didn’t like these people. I automatically assumed they were silly and gauche and I thought, “If our paths crossed, I’d get away from them as fast as I could.” Just that quick, a voice in the recesses of my brain challenged me. “Really?” it asked. “You’ll go out of your way to talk to a homeless person, but you’re okay with sneering at nouveau riche folks? How can that be right?”
Lent will do that. It has a way of pulling us up short and highlighting idle assumptions that evidence how much further we have to go to be like the Lord. Jesus spent a lot of time with poor people. But He showed kindness and hospitality to wealthy and grandiose types, too. If the Samaritan woman at the well had been a Real Housewife (and she may have been), He wouldn’t have turned her away. Where do I get off imagining I can do differently? So there you go. Add unjust attitudes about the privileged few to my heaps.
After a while, it starts to feel like our shortcomings are closing in on us. Wherever we turn, there’s another mountain. Our Lenten progress reaches a standstill, because we can no longer scale the foolishness we pile up. Our first instinct is to appeal to God’s mercy (the right thing) and expect God to move our mountains for us (the wrong thing). We want God to serve our interests as a single-handed demolition crew, blow our weaknesses sky-high, and clear the way so we can get on with our lives. That’s not going to happen.
No sooner had I been chastened for my condescension than my iPod shuffled up a tune that spoke to my problem. It was a song I’d never really paid attention to, “That’s How the Lord Works,” by The Thomas Whitfield Singers. The soloist sang, “I asked God to move my mountains, but instead God increased my faith.” The choir answered, “That’s how the Lord works; that’s just like God.” I had to think about that for a minute.
The allusion, of course, is Jesus’s promise in Matthew 17.20 (repeated almost verbatim in Matthew 21.21): “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.” We get all excited about the dramatic proportions of His imagery—a teeny tiny seed of faith can move impossibly huge mountains. But if we look at enormous piles of our junk, and then ask God to move them for us, are we truly following the principle Jesus lays out? “You”—not “God”—“will say to this mountain, ‘Move,’” He says.
Moving our mountains is our responsibility. God makes it possible the instant we confess belief they can be moved. The size of our faith doesn’t have to equal the scope of our problems. It just needs to plant confidence that moving mountains is not impossible. Speaking to them acknowledges that we see them for what they are. We can no longer cloak them in language of denial and justification. They are mountains. They need to move. “You say it,” Jesus promises, “and nothing will be impossible for you.”