T HANKS TO PHIL MELTON for getting us started on our Lenten series, “Seeing with Jesus eyes.” Last week, Phil used the event of feeding of the 5,000 to show that Jesus sees and responds to physical need.
Today, Jesus sees faith. Sometimes Jesus sees faith that we might overlook, in ourselves or in others.
In Matthew 9, we come across two short events where Jesus sees faith. One: People bring a paralyzed man to Jesus for healing. In the other, a woman comes to Jesus and quietly touches his clothes. She hopes by doing this she will be healed. Jesus sees the faith of the friends. Jesus sees the faith of the sickly woman. And commends them for their faith.
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WE MIGHT THINK OF FAITH as belief, an intellectual understanding. There’s more to faith than belief. In 1860, Charles Blondin precariously inched his way on a tightrope across the swirling, violent waters of Niagara Falls. He had done this several times before with a variety of props. As Blondin stepped off the rope, the amazement of the crowd erupted into a roar of cheers, applause and shouts.
“Do you believe I can cross back over the falls again?” he asked.
The crowd yelled enthusiastically back, “Yes! Yes, you can! We believe.”
Blondin responded, “Do you believe I could cross back over carrying a man on my back?”
The crowd roared back in reply, “Yes! Yes, we believe!”
Blondin asked, “Okay — who will volunteer to go with me?”
The crowd was silent.
Blondin pointed to an onlooker nearby and asked, “Will you?”
The onlooker shook his head violently: “No — not me.”
Ann then another and another. “Is there anyone who will trust me?”
Blondin turned to his manager, Harry. “Do you believe I can carry you across?
“Yes, Charles, I believe you can,” Harry replied.
“Then will you trust me to climb onto my back?” Charles asked.
Harry replied, “I will.”
Harry stepped onto the platform with Blondin and climbed onto his back. (I tried to solidly verify this story. Blondin was real. On one crossing he did carry his manager on his back. The conversation with the crowd, I could not verify, but it sounds reasonable.)
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THERE’S MORE TO FAITH than belief. Faith primarily means personal loyalty or personal commitment. When the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith they are not asking Jesus to increase their understanding or their intellectual agreement. They are asking Jesus to increase their loyalty to him. To increase their bonding with him. To be willing to climb on his back as he walks the tightrope across the chaos.
Faith doesn’t have to be heroic. Standing against the lions. Facing a giant. Walking on water. Crossing Niagara Falls. The simplest things done in faith can have a huge impact. Faith is just doing your job — just doing your duty — simply because it needs doing. Faith is doing what needs to be done right in front of you. Jesus sees that faith. We often overlook it.
Faith is more like a muscle. The more we use that muscle, the stronger it gets. Jesus tells his disciples that we’ve got all that we need to be faithful, and that being faithful is about recognizing all the God-given opportunities just to show up and do what needs to be done:
■ do our work
■ care for those in need
■ protect the vulnerable
■ reach out to the lonely
■ befriend the friendless
■ keep the world going
■ contribute to the common good.
It’s all the ordinary stuff we do all the time and, taken together and blessed by God, it’s pretty darn extraordinary.
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RETIRED MINISTER TOM LONG shares the story of a friend who lost his wife to cancer. She died two weeks before Easter Sunday. His heart was broken. His faith was gone. He couldn’t even think of going to church on Easter Sunday. He hadn’t missed a Sunday at church in 10 years and neither had his wife, before she got sick. He couldn’t conceive of standing in church singing “Jesus Christ Is Risen Today.”
But his friends came on Easter Sunday morning early to pick him up for church, and they wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. They practically dragged him to church. He sat grimly through the joyful festivities. To be honest, it didn’t help much. He was just as heartbroken after the service as he’d been before. He stood politely with the rest of the congregation during the hymns but he could not sing. He was silent. He was sad.
But then the weeks and months went by, and time — or God — gradually pieced together his broken heart, and he told Dr. Long, “I remember thinking that it would have been deceitful for me to sing about resurrection so soon after my wife’s death. I just didn’t believe in resurrection. But I also remember thinking that my friends in church were singing the hymns for me. They were believing for me. They pressed their faith into service for me when I had none to know and none to give and none to sing.”
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SOMETIMES FAITH IS ordinary and daily practices of fidelity and service. Jesus sees such faith.
By God’s grace, may we see with Jesus eyes the faith around us.