I would like to think today, together, about the idea of “moving mountains.” This is the image that our Lord chose to illustrate the business of prayer.
Jesus said, “If you have faith as big as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move’” (Matthew 17.20). This is symbolic language, the language of parables. Our faith is described as something tiny and small, in the looming shadow of the mountain.
The “mountain,” on the other hand, is much, much bigger and more intimidating than any mountain like Mount Washington or even Mount Everest. The mountain, in this specific situation in the Gospel, is the longterm and severe problem of boy who was demon-possessed. The problem was longterm and violent. The boy was so deranged that he often jumped into a fire, or tried to drown himself.
The boy’s father had taken him to the disciples of Jesus. But despite the fact that the disciples had driven out many demons before, they failed in this case.
So the father took the boy to Jesus. And, sure enough, Jesus -- the Son of God -- rebuked the demon, and the demon left the boy. The boy was cured.
This is a dramatic case of “mountain-moving.”
When the disciples came to Jesus and asked why they failed, in their attempt, the Lord told them that it was because of their insufficient faith.
Clearly, their faith was even smaller than a mustard seed! Because a “mustard-seed-size-faith,” as small as that is, is at least big enough to move the mountains that need to be moved.
Just what are these mountains? The image, or symbol, of the mountain here means only one thing: something that cannot be moved normally … something that is a longterm problem … a problem where one solution has been tried after another … a situation that seems completely hopeless, where there can be seen no light at the end of the tunnel, because it seems that the tunnel has no end.
The “mountain” here means the failure of human attempts … it means hopelessness. Sometimes, it is frightening with explicit manifestations of demonic activity. More often, though, it is submerged into a generalized despondency, where people are left shaking their heads, saying depressing things like “It is what it is,” or, “Whatever.”
Jesus left the meaning of this mountain-image deliberately as a “fill-in-the-blank,” where particular problems and difficulties can be written on the line, depending on the situation.
At this point, Jesus reveals to mountain-moving. “Have real faith,” He said. It may seem small, and it may seem -- to the world especially -- completely foolish. The smallness of the mustard seed should be considered carefully here. The “smallness” means that choosing “real faith” in such a situation as this Gospel is always going to seem difficult, against the odds, and very unpopular. One is going to feel like David going up against Goliath, or Daniel in the lions’ den, or the Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace of the Chaldeans.
“Mustard seed faith” is a faith that requires the bravery of the Theotokos: it exceeds the bravery of soldiers and firemen. Why is this? Because all too often, the faith that is needed for the business of “mountain-moving” must be chosen and engaged upon -- all too frequently at odds with home and family, friend and custom. This is why Jesus said that “Unless a man prefer Me over spouse or parent, children or home, he cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven.”
But enough about the size of the mustard seed: what does it contain? Is Jesus simply talking about confidence? or charged-up emotional enthusiasm?
What is this “seed of faith” made out of?
Here, we can take as a clue the very interesting words of the next verse: “This kind cannot go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17.21).
Immediately, we recognize what this “mustard seed faith” really is … It is Theosis. It is the mysterious eternal process of the Holy Spirit fashioning a person into the likeness of Jesus Christ. It is the participation of a believer in the Grace and Nature of the Trinity.
Theosis requires prayer and fasting. Theosis requires Baptism and the Eucharist, and all the teaching and doctrine that goes with the sacraments. Theosis is a forever-becoming more and more like the Beatitudes. Theosis is friendship with the Holy Trinity, and feeling the happiness of the Theotokos and all the saints.
In short, “mustard seed faith” is not just a few facts, nor is it just enthusiasm. “Mustard seed faith,” even the size of a teensy-weensy mustard seed, is enough to overthrow mountains -- because the Theosis of such a faith means that you are Light in the darkness … and, most radically, according to the words of Jesus Himself, you are “god” with a little ‘g.’
As long as you are not a god (through theosis), you cannot move mountains.
This is the intercessory work of “the prayer of a righteous man that availeth much,” as St James says.
It is interesting that the Saints who pray like this do not expect mountains to move according to human expectations or timetables. It is enough that the the mountains of hopeless are moved.
If you are a Christian, this is your job description. You are in the “mountain-moving” business, like it or not. This is why we have liturgy, the sacraments and doctrine -- so you can have this faith, the size of a mustard seed.
So your mountains may be moved. The mountains that you confront are why you are placed in this moment and in this place. You are the revolutionary, the change-agent. If you see a mountain, it is not to be ignored or detoured around. It is to be moved, and the way made straight.
And if becoming a god by the Triune Grace in the Image of the Son is the only way (which it is), then you know what you need to do.
What you need to become.