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The miracle of the mustard seed 
by Rev. Howard Ray Carey

How big is your faith? In reality can faith be measured by size, or only by quality, vitality? Jesus must have startled His hearers ---- all people of limited faith ---- when He declared to them: ''Truly I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, 'Move hence to yonder place' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible to you.'' (Matt. 17:20)

How can we believe that? First, let us consider what kind of mountain it was which the disciples had failed to remove, hard as they had tried. That mountain, we find, was a severe case of epilepsy, which the Christ readily 'removed' through His great love, triggered by His dauntless faith ---- a profound trust in God. But the startling thing is that He assures us that if we have a mustard seed kind of faith we can go and do likewise!

Now in the moving of physical mountains people need faith, but they usually harness that faith to earth moving machinery. As someone wrote a generation ago concerning the construction of the Panama Canal: ''A man went down to Panama, where many a man had died, to slit the sliding mountains, and lift the eternal tide. A man stood up in Panama, and the mountains stood aside.''

But the most ominous mountains we face seem to be our pride and prejudices, our resentments and worries, our fears and fantasies. And the Christ showed His genius when He indicated that it takes faith like a grain of mustard seed to remove these obstacles. For the mustard seed has a whole world of potentialities hidden within it. Next note what Jesus said concerning His kingdom in relation to all this: ''The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all (then known) seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.'' (Matt. 13:31-32)

But notice that the farmer has sense enough to sow or plant the seed in his field. For, with all its tremendous potential, the seed remains dormant until it is planted, and thus exposed to the warmth of the sun's rays, plus the moisture and nurturing elements in the soil.

Isn't this saying to us that we must not only have this quality of faith, but that we must also put it to work and let it grow, before it demonstrates its marvels? But there is a far different concept of faith, totally unlike the mustard seed in that it is quite incapable of such growth and fruitage.

This brittle kind of faith, so called, is spelled out in the book of Jude, verse 3, where we are admonished ''to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.'' This has no reference to something vital and ready for growth. Rather, this refers to a body of doctrine, external to us, and which is static, not intended for growth, or even change.

Unfortunately, many theologians and religious leaders have latched on to this idea and are busy contending for such a brittle body of doctrine. This constitutes a set of dogmas, with such fear motivated teachings as the 'infallibility of the Bible', etc. at the center. They see such doctrines as fundamental to what they think of as the one and only true religion. Such creeds are buttressed by sacrament and ritual as the only possible way to 'salvation'. And, true to the admonition to 'contend' for this 'faith once for all delivered to the saints', the contention becomes a bit strident and fearful at times.   But what did Christ say when He was asked what was most important or fundamental? Remember that He gave us this healing word: ''You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'' Then He added: ''On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.'' (Matt. 22:37-40)

So here we have two sharply contrasting concepts of what religious or spiritual life is all about. One is set (like concrete) in a rigid list of so called fundamental doctrines, implemented through sacraments and ritual. The other is centered in true love to God and to all humanity, implemented by a vital faith ---- a seed-like faith ---- which is really a deep spirit of trust in the basic goodness of life. This is a miracle-working faith which is today being planted in the fertile soil of human need. It is being put to work to remove all obstructing 'mountains', and thus bring in the glad New Age of sharing, justice and peace.

The Christ today is calling on us to do our part, to act in this kind of living faith. He reminds us: ''I require the creation of a certain trust, an expectancy and hope.'' (Message No. 58) And in Message No. 52 He urges us: ''Keep open your heart to the Higher Stream and make yourself a channel for Me. I need many such.'' And in Message No. 38 He assures us: ''My Masters are among you in a new way...sowing the seeds of Love and Trust among the nations.''

Thus the choice before us: to contend for an external and crystallized body of doctrines, which constitute in reality a denial of trust; or to launch out with a genuine trust in the cause of Christ, putting our mustard seed faith to work in the soil of aching human need ---- there to let it bear abundant fruitage of love, justice and peace for all. Thus let us eagerly do our part in implementing the great love and energy of the Hierarchy. In this way we can have a vital part in the real 'salvation' or redemption of all our sisters and brothers everywhere, and the entire planetary life as well.

This article is a chapter from The Joy of Christ's Coming This book by the late Rev. Howard Ray Carey was published by Share International Foundation in 1988. It is not currently available in hard copy form. Copyright © Share International Foundation.  Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard version unless otherwise indicated. 

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First published April 1999, Last modified: 15-Oct-2005