“Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.”
Faith can move mountains. Big ones, scary ones, rocky and snowy ones. Mountains of every kind and description can be moved, even with just a mustard seed sized faith.
When his friends were unable to cast out a stubborn demon from a young boy, and they asked him why it wasn’t working, Jesus said to them:
“Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17:20 NIV).
In Marks memoir, Jesus friends were stunned when a fig tree shrivelled up at Jesus command.
“Have faith in God,” Jesus said. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” (Mark 11:22-23 NIV).
If you have faith and do not doubt. Mountainous expectation.
“Something that seems impossible can be possible if we put our heart, soul, and faith into it. It’s a lived into experience, not a “snap of the finger” trick.”
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The thing is, I’ve never seen a mountain move, or be cast into the sea.
I know, I know, it’s a metaphor, right? About faith and doubt and expecting and believing. At Youth Group, we used to chant “if you have faith and do not doubt…” over and over. I stifled my doubts and amped up my “faith” (I’m not sure how you amp up faith, really. But I was sure I had). Yet, things still didn’t turn out the way my faith declared they would. All my mountains stayed still and strong and gloating.
A note on language:
Ancient Hebrew culture was built on oral tradition. They didn’t write things down. They relied on story telling to communicate their history, politics, beliefs, and values. Within this tradition, especially the Rabbinic Tradition, they used hyperbole as a way to get the point across; they exaggerated to over-communicate a thought, an idea, a value. Their exaggeration didn’t devalue the point they were trying to communicate; rather it indicated where people should pay close attention. They polarized ideas to lead people to think deeply into them. That’s what’s going on in Matt 17 and Mark 11 when Jesus talks about faith and moving mountains. He’s saying: pay attention and seek the truth out in this statement.
The phrase “rooter up of mountains” was a metaphor commonly used in Jewish literature. If you were considered a masterful teacher or spiritual leader, that’s what they called you. In the Babylonian Talmud, the great rabbis are called “rooters up of mountains.” Such people could solve great problems, had mind blowing wisdom, and could seemingly do the impossible. It wasn’t so much about being able to chant a particular prayer with the right faith ingredients to make a mountain instantaneously move. It was about being able to sort through the mess, chaos, and problem that the mountain represented. Something that seems impossible can be possible if we put our heart, soul, and faith into it.
It’s a lived into experience, not a “snap of the finger” trick.
Sometimes we expect magic out of our faith. That if we say the right prayer, banish all our doubts, and believe hard enough, what we expect will come to pass. Like healing, provision, peace, hope, joy… But that’s not how faith works.
For the ancient Rabbi’s, those called “rooters up of mountains,” their doubts and questions danced them into wisdom and truth, turning them into perpetual seekers and finders. Divine problem solvers.
Sometimes the miracle isn’t so much in a huge mountain being cast into the sea, but in our tenacity to face the mountain with all our agency, heart, and strength.
Written by Liz Milani