3 November 2016

Matthew 17:14-27

“For truly I tell 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 for you.” (v. 20)

Psalm: Psalm 39


Today we are neither going up nor down a mountain, rather we are moving one! Jesus and his disciples have returned from the top of the mountain - from a moment of transformation, a time apart from time, a retreat into heaven itself. Now they are back, well and truly in the midst of it. Today's passage tells of the disciples being unable to heal a very sick boy and of Jesus demonstrating anger and frustration, rebuking the disciples for their lack of faith. Jesus also offers a grave warning about his future death but also hints at his resurrection to follow, leaving the disciples deeply distressed. There is then a debate about taxes and a strange instruction from Jesus to Peter to go line fishing and catch a fish with a coin in its mouth to pay taxes for him and Jesus.

The pace of the story has changed from a slow, calm and peaceful time, when there is space for God's glory to break through, to a rapid, dangerous time when the demands on Jesus and his disciples are relentless and unreasonable.

This is part of the reality of returning from a time away, whether it is a holiday, a retreat or a time of illness or bereavement. The 'in box' has filled to overflowing. The world has carried on turning, events have continued to happen and people we know and love have got themselves into messes or not being able to do things as well as we think we would. You can almost sense a subtext in Jesus' reaction, perhaps thinking 'I only leave you alone for a few hours and you fall apart!'. His metaphor of the mustard seed can be understood too literally, the mountain does not need to move or be moved. Jesus is using hyperbole to make his point: 'You don't need me around to do God's work, even faith as tiny as a mustard seed can move mountains, nothing is impossible for God.

Jesus is in demand, with people are clamouring for his power, his teaching and his miracles. No wonder then, that earlier in the chapter, he orders his disciples to be silent about witnessing the transfiguration (Matthew 17:9) - he is already overwhelmed by need, spiritual, physical, political and psychological; he does not need more attention.

In the midst of the passage the disciples are shocked by Jesus declaration of his death, it is as though they do not hear his words about rising on the third day (verses 22-23). They as yet do not have faith enough to understand or even imagine that resurrection might be possible. It is not the faith to move mountains that they need, it is the faith to accept that Jesus is truly the Messiah, the one who will transform, not only Israel, but the whole of creation.

To Ponder

  • What part of this passage resonates most for you?
  • In the midst of a busy life, how do you make space for the possibility of encountering God?
  • How do you react to the idea of a tiny amount of faith being sufficient to do great things?

Bible notes author

The Revd Micky Youngson

The Revd Michaela Youngson is Chair of the London District of the Methodist Church. She has served as a presbyter in circuits in Lancashire and London, as well as having been Secretary of Pastoral Care and Spirituality in the Connexional Team.