Sunday, October 3, 2021

Moving Mountains? What Kind?

I find that a lot of people these days point to a verse in the Bible that is seminal to their theology of God always wanting to heal--for their presupposition is that God wants us healthy, wealthy and wise.  I am sure you are very familiar with it:

Then Jesus said to the disciples, “Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart. I tell you, you can pray for anything, and if you believe that you’ve received it, it will be yours. But when you are praying, first forgive anyone you are holding a grudge against, so that your Father in heaven will forgive your sins, too.” (Mark 11:22-5)

Pretty straightforward, huh?  If I have cancer, or I am praying for someone who does, and I believe that God wants the person healed, we pray for that "mountain"--the cancer--to be cast away.  Let's look at Matthew's take on this teaching:

He replied, “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 17:20-1)

Same basic principle:  Believe enough, and it will happen.


But, a text without a context is a pretext.  

Let's look at the contexts that the gospel writers recorded these verses.  In Mark, the chapter begins with Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  He then teaches in the Temple, leaves returns the next day.  A fig tree, pretending to offer fruit, is cursed by Jesus for its rich metaphorical example of fake fruit--piety on the outside and prideful reactions to others on the inside.   This so characterizes the leaders Jesus will be confronting in the upcoming week. 

Jesus returns and clears the Temple, defiled with its emphasis on commerce, and using the Court of the Gentiles as a mall, instead of a place where God-fearers (Gentiles sensitive to the things of God) can come and commune with Israel's God.  

The disciples and Jesus return to Bethany and on the way, Peter sees the withered fig, and remembers Jesus' words from the day earlier.  Jesus then says that faith, operating in forgiveness and love, will move the mountains that the disciples will face in the near future:  Evil men, parading piously and using the Torah as a foundation for a pride-filled organization that will kill the long-awaited Messiah and persecute His followers.

Hmm.  These verses are not set where someone needs healing--they are set where the disciples will be facing the mountainous edifice that is Temple system, and its secular counterpart, the Roman Empire.  

The verses in Matthew do contain a healing.  First, the three disciples, Peter, James and John, go up onto a mountain and see Jesus as He was before He came down as a man--He is transfigured into His Deity-self before their very eyes.  Jesus returns with them from the mountain, only to find some chaos in His absence.  A man brought his demon-possessed son to the remaining disciples, and they were not able to drive the demon out.  Once Jesus returns, He chides His men for their lack of belief.  Later they inquire of Jesus as to why they were unable to drive the demon out; He then says the above verses.

The "mountain" here was evil on fearful display in this young boy--having seizures, and him falling into either fire or water.   

A common theme emerges: the seemingly implacable presence of evil.   I don't think the mountain was the child's healing from a disease--though Jesus healed many of disease--it was the evil that had taken over the boy and was threatening his very life.  

So, too was the evil the disciples faced when the Jewish leadership partnered with godless Rome to kill Jesus.

In reading a book on the geography that surrounded Jesus as He taught, the authors made an interesting observation about a mountain having been moved by an immoral leader, Herod:

Josephus describes Herodium as follows:

This fortress, which is some sixty stadia distant from Jerusalem, is naturally strong and very suitable for such a structure, for reasonably nearby is a hill, raised to a (greater) height by the hand of man and rounded off in the shape of a breast. At intervals it has round towers, and it has a steep ascent formed of two hundred steps of hewn stone. Within it are costly royal apartments made for security and for ornament at the same time. At the base of the hill there are pleasure grounds built in such a way as to be worth seeing, among other things because of the way in which water, which is lacking in that place, is brought in from a distance and at great expense. The surrounding plain was built up as a city second to none, with the hill serving as an acropolis for the other dwellings.

Archaeologists believe that the palace was designed by architects and built by slaves and paid workers (contractors). Herod was considered one of the greatest builders of his time and was not daunted by geography—his palace was built on the edge of the desert and was situated atop an artificial hill. [emphasis mine] (1)

Could it be Jesus was referring to a faith that may be small but is untainted by the world because it is born from above by the Holy Spirit, and that such a faith is eternally valuable?  Could it be such a new faith, born of God and by God, is more powerful and is in utter opposition to the worldliness and hypocrisy of leaders like Herod, the Pharisees and Rome, who seemed so tolerate of the religions of the people that they conquered, until faith actually meant something as the new church's faith would?

Was that mountain, in Jesus' teachings, synonymous with evil?  So, if our faith is strong and is utter grounded in who Jesus is, we can overcome that what He is saying?

I don't see that verse being applicable to every obstacle we face: sometimes the obstacles are the natural consequences of our poor choices.

But I do see, when His people really unite and run a mission to the very gates of hell, that love, His love in us, is a powerful weapon against evil.

Using the Word incorrectly divides us, and I see these verses being mishandled by those who do not seem to see the surrounding context in which these verses were used.  

Now is a time where the American church's theology is being tested in fire of affliction.  

Sadly, decades of misusing the Word has created a tremendous amount of dross.  

But God is faithful.  Are we?

One last thing to consider:  The mountain upon which Herod built his palace is right near the Dead Sea.  Perhaps Jesus chose that mountain and that sea to fully illustrate His work in the world through us?



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