Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Faith that moves mountains...

(Wow. Post number 100. I must have too much spare time on my hands...)

Mark 11v12-14 & 20-25
[12] The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. [13] Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. [14] Then he said to the tree, "May no one ever eat fruit from you again." And his disciples heard him say it.

[20] In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. [21] Peter remembered and said to Jesus, "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!"
[22] "Have faith in God," Jesus answered. [23] "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him. [24] Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. [25] And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins."
This is a familiar passage. We've all heard it used and abused and taken totally out of context. This is the passage (in parallel to one in Matthew) which speaks of moving mountains... Except it doesn't. It speaks of 'moving this mountain' - one specific mountain, not a general principle.

I mean, Christian history isn't full of stories of people moving geography by faith, is it? I can't actually think of any instances of people moving mountains or even hills without some serious earth-moving equipment. So what's Jesus talking about here?

Which mountain?

In the context of the story, the only mountain that Jesus could be referring to is the Temple Mount - just across the valley from where the fig tree stood. The in-between verses in that story (which I missed out above) are about the clearing of the temple.

Now contextualise things and think about what the Temple Mount meant to the disciples. The temple was the very home of God, the place where God's Spirit rested and the place where the people could get close to their God. It was also the place of sacrifice and atonement. What Jesus says here is actually far more earth-shattering than simply moving geography about. The Jewish disciples were probably comfortable with the idea that God could move mountains about, but this mountain? It was probably the only immovable object in their world view.

Now think about what Jesus says - "I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, 'Go, throw yourself into the sea,' and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him." - where does the 'action' take place here? With the person, 'in his heart'. Might the actual meaning of this statement be something more like this?:

"...not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done in him."

I think Jesus is saying that the only way to get rid of the mountain of religious baggage that the disciples were carrying is to live by faith; faith in Him. His way is the only way to be free of religion and actually live the unfettered life that God intended for them.

I'm sure for some, the idea of being totally free from all that was far more impressive than merely the ability to move geography about.


Anonymous said...

Interesting perspective:

During Jesus' day, the second temple would have set upon the temple mount, now home to the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque. These latter structures certainly may be mountains and hills (obstacles) to events that must come to pass.

As far as religion goes, yes the 2nd temple could have been an obstruction to a real relationship with God, which is probably why the veil was miraculously torn in half during the crucifixion. In the completion of certain prophecies, however, another Jewish temple would not be an obstacle to bringing about closure, rather it would be a necessity, (i.e. without a Jewish temple, the completion of prophecy cannot come about, so it could not ultimately be called a mountain or obstacle.) On the contrary, the obstacles are those things currently keeping a 3rd temple from being a reality...

Ricky Carvel said...

Hmmm. I'm not sure I see the need for a new 3rd temple.

Jesus on more than one occasion hinted that he, himself, was the temple (not some building made by hands) and so the building of a new building seems fairly pointless.

Also the final revelation message of the new Jerusalem specifically notes that there was no temple. Because we don't need one anymore.

Patrick said...

You know, that's a very interesting take on it. I had never thought of it that way. Awesome!

Ricky Carvel said...


Welcome to my blog.

The problem with my interpretation here is that it doesn't account for Matthew 17v20 'He replied, "Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, 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."' or Luke 17v6 "He replied, "If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it will obey you."

According to the context of the Matthew verse, Jesus is in Galilee (i.e. can't see the temple mount), so either is referring to a different mountain or he did mean the temple mount but Matthew has taken the story and placed it in the wrong geographical location.

The Luke passage on the other hand seems to have nothing to do with moving mountains, but does speak of moving trees about. And I can't think what parallels there are between mulberry trees and the temple mount. But maybe there are.

But still, no interpretation is ever perfect. ;o)