Thursday, January 31, 2008

Mustard Trees and Mountains

The gospel of Mark records a miracle performed by the Savior right after His experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. A man came to Jesus with his son, who had been afflicted with an evil spirit/psychiatric illness since he was a child. The apostles could not heal the boy, so the man brought him to the Savior.
"And when he saw him, straightway the spirit tare him; and he fell on the ground, and wallowed foaming. And he asked his father, How long is it ago since this came unto him? And he said, Of a child. And ofttimes it hath cast him into the fire, and into the waters, to destroy him: but if thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us.
"Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.
"And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears, Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief" (Mark 9:20-24).

Sometimes I feel like this man. There are so many principles of the Gospel that require so much faith to operate, and though I have been taught of their truth since I was a child, yet I lack the perfect faith I need to be able to move mountains (Ether 12:30).

The Lord told his disciples that "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you" (Matt. 17:20). Often in Sunday School classes we talk about how small a mustard seed is, and compare it to the size of the mustard plant, and from the vast difference observe that even just a little faith can have great consequences. The teacher then ends the lesson by admonishing the students to plant that little mustard seed of faith in their garden, and it will soon grow into a giant mustard tree.

But the mustard of Christ's day was very different from the bright yellow condiment with which we are familiar. There is very little evidence that mustard was cultivated in those days. In fact, Jewish law at the time prohibited planting mustard seeds in one's garden. The reason was simple: the mustard plant was a weed. In fact, it was such a persistently hardy and fast-spreading weed that it was the bane of many early gardener's existences. Introducing a few mustard seeds could ruin a well-kept garden. And mustard plants weren't giant trees--they were shrubs, and stood only a few feet high, at most. (This book introduced me to this idea).

So what does it mean to have faith like a mustard seed? I think it means to have faith that is infectious, that grows and takes over everything else, that chokes out our carefully cultivated doubt, fear, and depression. It's an inconvenient faith we have to have-- a faith that moves us to action, that infuses everything we do. It can't just be one plant in a corner of the garden of our spirit--it has to be mixed in with everything--the flowers, the vegetables, the herbs--it has to be everywhere we turn. It isn't a faith we can put in a box on a shelf and dust off and trot out on Fast Sunday, it's a faith that informs and transforms everything we do. It's this kind of faith that is so powerful--the faith to do miracles, the faith to move mountains--the faith of a persistent weed. It's faith like a mustard seed--once it gets into you, it stays, and grows, and spreads.

It's that kind of faith that I want--not the tame faith that can only reflect on the truth academically. I want the stubborn overpowering faith like a first-century Mediterranean weed.

"Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief."

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