Vol 3: 33 Mission and Faith

In this season of Advent, as we look back remembering Christ’s incarnation and birth and as we look forward to Christ’s return, we are also encouraged to be a people of hope and faith.

In my reading of Scripture last week, I came to a different perspective on faith, which I would like to explore with you.

I was reading Matthew 16 about the Pharisees demanding a sign from Jesus, but Jesus refusing to give them one, except for one already given; Jesus warning his disciples to be on guard against the yeast of the Pharisees; and the disciples wondering if this was because they had no bread. And then Jesus being aware of this discussion says this to them: “You of little faith, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread.”

This statement regarding faith seems out of place (though many relate it to being able to believe that Jesus is able to provide bread – i.e., as if Jesus was asking, do you not have faith that I can provide bread?) But I believe that is to miss what Jesus was asking. He was not making a point about him being able to make bread, but he was talking about the yeast, the teaching of the Pharisees.

In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus often chides his disciples for being blind, for not getting it – “don’t you see, don’t you understand?” I think something similar is going on here in Matthew.

Faith, I believe, has very little to do with our ability to believe – having the ability to muster enough faith to believe God. Faith is not our “work” that we do so that we can believe in Jesus and believe the things of God. Faith I believe has more to do with our world view, our perspective in regard to life and living, what we are open to receive.

Jesus, in talking about the yeast of the Pharisees, which the disciples misunderstood as evidenced by their conversation about bread, led Jesus to question their faith. Jesus’ question about faith has something to do with the inability of the Pharisees to see the things of God – hence their asking for a sign (cf. Matthew 16: 1-4).

Rather than faith being a hope or belief we muster up in ourselves, I think Jesus is addressing to what extent does our worldview, our perspective in life embrace the active presence of God. Jesus warned of the “yeast” of the Pharisees, their teaching, because though they believed in God, God was not much of a daily incarnational presence. God had given the Law, and now it was up to them to live it out. They believed God, but God was a ritual presence and not an active presence in their day to day life. Faith has to do with seeing God as being active within the day to day goings on of our lives.

In one sense this changes the idea of faith for me completely – faith is not something I have to somehow create in myself, rather faith is receiving the reality, the active presence of God, as part of my day to day life, my everyday world view. Faith is about living life in such a way that recognizes that God is actively engaged with us, God is actively part of life – our lives and in the lives of others.

The Pharisees lacked this perspective, and hence lacked faith. To the extent that God is not integrated into our world view, to that extent we lack faith as well. Faith is not about believing strongly enough that God will somehow break into our world, but rather faith is about realizing, discovering, experiencing, and thus knowing, that God is indeed central to all that is life – God is central to every worldview. Do we see that?

In this sense, God is not merely relegated to the religious or spiritual sphere, but God is part of our economic world, our scientific world, our political life, our social and relational life – God is a part of all that is expressive of life in our world.

This, I believe, is what Jesus was addressing with his disciples. “You of little faith” has to do with having little understanding of how God is an active integrated aspect of everyday life. When we see God in this way, miracle is everywhere, not just an aberration of the natural order – because God is indeed part of the natural order – a part we do not normally grasp, see, understand unless we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

All it takes is a little faith to make room for God in our lives – our opening a small space for God in our lives, gives space for the Spirit of God to enter in – and then the healing and re-creating presence of God takes hold in our lives.

Such an understanding of faith – God being an integral part of our natural world – gives us eyes to see other passages of Scripture in new ways. For example, Paul declaring of Jesus to the Colossians says that in Jesus everything holds together (cf. Colossians 1:17). In having a perceptive, a world view, a faith that embraces the active presence of God in the world, we begin to see that God, Jesus Christ, are the presence that sustains and holds life together.

So, when Jesus wonders about his disciples faith, he wonders not about whether they are able to muster up the right energy within themselves to believe, but whether they even have the ability to see the active presence of God in the world. The Pharisees were unable to see in this way and that is what Jesus was warning them about – have a different perspective than them, don’t listen to their teaching which has little room for the active presence of God – rather be open to seeing God active everywhere, all around us, in this world of ours.

Such seeing the presence of God in the world . . . – is faith! And with such faith, in following after Jesus, we cannot wait to participate with God in what God is doing in recreating all creation.

This Advent may we be open to the Spirit finding a way into our lives so that faith is developed in us – seeing God as integrated with all of our life so that we may participate with God in mission.

  1. Linda Wiens says:

    I agree with you and with your wish for the world. I have a concern about how we in the U.S. deal with tragedies: Huge media coverage includes falsehoods and encourages anger and desire for vengeance; and it causes us to emote heavily over distant events while ignoring those in our neighborhood and even family. We think about certain kinds of lives lost as an outrage (though little action for change results), and we ignore the lost lives of certain others, e.g., homeless people, gang victims in “bad” neighborhoods, crime perpetrators, and many more whose death is largely due to our social systems and lack of active caring.

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