Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Aug. 24, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
We human beings have become thoroughly used to standing upright, quite literally, on our own two feet. There was a time, so the anthropologists tell us, when our evolutionary ancestors crawled around on all fours. At some proverbial moment in time, the “first” gorilla-type human being stood up – and history has never been the same. Picture that scene: great bursts of light! The thunderous crescendos of music! Awesome!
Oh, all right. That moment may be imaginary. But do we not still mark the moment when a child takes his or her first full steps across the living room floor? We coax our little ones to their feet, then squeal excitedly as the child stumbles through a short-lived path of victory. Standing tall for the first time .... joining the human family in its expression of dignity and triumph.
While attending a summer-camp basketball scrimmage this summer, it struck me how the same triumph is celebrated in many of our athletic competitions. Most of them take place with the competitors standing up. Some events – like wrestling and boxing – even have as their object the reduction of the opponent to a primordial posture of ground-hugger. Last one standing is the victor!
In light of this (not so profound) insight, I am amused by the reversal of roles that occurs during a sports event when one of the players loses a contact lens. The officials blow the whistle, stop the game, and everyone crawls around on all fours, trying carefully to find a tiny piece of barely visible plastic. Some players have told me how embarrassing such situations are for them. After all, they are supposed to be standing tall. The experience of re-enacting primordial behavior is a bit much. Crawling is an indication of loss, of submission. It certainly is beneath the dignity of those whom our culture champions as fine specimens of the human race.
A recent daily Mass reading from Scripture moved my reflection from contact lenses to mustard seeds.
It seems that one day, the disciples of Jesus were seeking an increase of faith. After all, would it not be wonderful to have the same miracle-working faith as the Lord? With a simple word, the most amazing miracles could happen. (Imagine how effective such power would be for meal preparation after a hard day’s work – better than a microwave – or in the face of a difficult examination, or when confronted by the many aches and pains of the human family of the modern world.) “Lord, increase our faith,” cried the apostles of Jesus. We well could echo the same.
Are the followers of Jesus looking for faith – or for power? To keep things true to course, Jesus responds with a rather enigmatic image: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this tree, ‘Be uprooted, and plant yourself in the sea’ – and it would happen.” Sounds like a great deal to me. What we couldn’t do with such faith! Look out, trees!
We must note that Jesus offers a very important lesson about faith. In effect, he bids his followers get down on their knees and look for the contact lens. Faith is not a matter of power, or the ability to manipulate one’s environment at whim and fancy. Nor is faith a thing that can be increased much like one would ask a waiter in a restaurant for more coffee or water. The apostles seem to presume that they already possess of their own accord the reality of faith; they merely want a greater portion of it. They stand tall with the Lord, and want to stand taller yet.
By focusing their attention on the mustard seed – the smallest of seeds known in Jesus’ day – Jesus makes his disciples realize how little they have in and of themselves. They really possess nothing, and can do nothing. They are weak men. If anything comes of their mustard-seed-sized faith, it is the result of the power of God, not of themselves. The man or woman of faith confesses total reliance upon God and realizes that the miraculous is the handiwork of God – whose hand cannot be forced. Faith is a relationship of dependency, accepting God as the only and certain fountain of life and holiness.
After learning to stand tall on our own, we don’t like to admit weakness and dependency. Just as we tend to forget our anthropological roots, we can forget our spiritual roots as well. Faith is a gift – God’s gift of love. When we are weak, then God’s presence can – and is – powerfully manifest. When we realize that we carry only an insignificant mustard seed, then God’s love and salvation can be seen and experienced. The miraculous happens, not at the snap of our fingers, but at the command of the Lord.
This lesson in discipleship is difficult and paradoxical. But for those of us who are willing to get down on our knees and look for the contact lens – for things small – it is possible to learn.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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