Demons And Mustard Seeds
by Conflicted Pastor
The verse about the mustard seed has always been a troubling one. As far as I know, a mountain has never been moved by speaking to it. Not even by Jesus. That’s not to say it’s impossible, it just hasn’t happened. So what do we do with a verse like this?
The context of this verse is that Jesus had just cast a demon out of a boy. The reason Jesus did it was because the disciples had tried, but were unable to cast it out. The disciples were riding high prior to this. They had seen a lot of miracles up to this point and heard a lot of Jesus’s teachings. They were ready to take the next step and do some of this stuff themselves.
I have been there before. I have attended conferences where afterward I have felt like I could walk on water. So, one time I tried. Half-jokingly, sure, but there was something in me that thought, “If Peter could do it, why can’t I?” I committed to the point where when my foot plunged through the surface of the pool water my body was actually jarred because it was expecting resistance.
After Jesus cast out this demon the disciples asked him why they couldn’t do it, but He could?
19 Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not drive it out?” 20 And He said to them, “Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to 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 to you. 21 “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” – Matthew 17:19-21
His point seems to be that it didn’t matter how much faith they had because that particular type of demon could only be cast out by way of prayer and fasting; however, in passing He says that the amount of faith equivalent to the size of a mustard seed gives people the ability to move mountains.
What do we do with this verse?
I have gone back and forth on this and, I’m sure, my position will waffle in the future. During my “Walk on Water phase I believed that when Jesus said it, He meant it. Therefore, my failure to defy the laws of nature meant that my faith level was miniscule at best. Walking on water is not as big of a deal as moving a mountain, and I couldn’t even do that. If there is a situation where a mountain needs to be moved to avert some kind of disaster, don’t come to me. I can’t even walk on water.
That was one of those events you look back on and are utterly embarrassed. I actually tried to walk on water. It feels like a very naive perspective on faith and the power it has.
Faith is powerful. It doesn’t matter which way your spiritual proclivities lie, the ability to believe in yourself is powerful. But why is it powerful? So that I can prove to myself that I have faith by walking on top of highly chlorinated water? So that people with enough faith can change the topography of our planet and destroy ecosystems by moving the Rockies from Colorado to Saskatchewan? Did Jesus really want people to try to move mountains?
I would say that most Christians I have spoken to believe that Jesus was being figurative when He said that we could move mountains. During my “Walk on Water” phase, this perspective really pissed me off. I took that passage literally. Why would Jesus trick us like that? That being said, I’m not going to give mainstream Christianity the satisfaction of being right. The understanding of that verse, while not taken literally, still is that the verse is defining faith as having a quantitative property and treating it as a tool for us to use. The more you have, the more cool shit you can do.
Diet and exercise can be used to help us live long, healthy lives. They can also be used to help us win arm-wrestling competitions. Which is the better use of diet and exercise? It depends what your priorities are. Diet and exercise are tools that we can use to accomplish physical goals. If we treat faith the same way we diminish its value.
Faith is a journey, not a tool. What does moving a mountain or walking on water do for me besides make me feel good about the level of faith I’ve achieved?
I have faith in my wife. I believe what she says, but more importantly I believe in her love for me. I believe she will do what she says she will do, and I believe in who she is. That type of faith only comes from a relationship. If we remove faith out of the context of a relationship, then we are de-fanging faith. My relationships fulfill me. My relationships are only as strong as the faith I have in them. When you believe that someone believes in you, you feel powerful. You feel like you can accomplish anything. The fact that my wife believes in me makes me believe in myself. When I believe in myself I feel like I can move mountains, but that’s not why I have faith in her. I have faith in her because I love her, and I love her because I have faith in her.
Faith allows us to connect with the Greater Thing so that we can accomplish greater things. It doesn’t matter what your priorities are, faith will help you get there. It’s a purity of belief that can only be experienced through connection to the Creator.
I believe Jesus was able to cast the demon out of that boy because He loved that boy, while the disciples were merely trying to test out their new “faith” toy. Jesus slapped their thinking around by essentially saying, “If you think faith is about being able to do cool tricks, then let me quantify it for you.” By setting an unreachable bar, he destroyed their objectification of faith.
And, in all honesty… when I stopped trying to measure my faith with supernatural feats of strength, I sincerely felt like a mountain had been moved off my shoulders.