We speak of faith in many metaphors. Here are some. You’ll think of others.
- Faith is a commodity that we own. We “have” faith like owning a car.
- Faith is a prize to be achieved through prayer and devotion.
- Faith is a dividing line, a reason to dislike some people and like others.
- Faith is an ethical principle on the basis of which we make choices.
- Faith is a conviction that determines public policy.
- Faith is a mysterious gift that inexplicably comes to some people and not to others.
Jesus is asked by the disciples to give them more faith, as if he can hand it to them, like a birthday card or a piece of candy. Instead, he tells them what faith can accomplish. Then he speaks of action. He connects “having faith” with following what is commanded of us and not thinking we’re terrific because we’ve done our job.
Curious, isn’t it. He often doesn’t seem to have answered the question. And yet...
When the apostles' request that Jesus increase their faith. . . he gives them a lesson on fidelity, on how they are to relate to God, view their service to God.
Faith, in Greek, pistis, is thus more than mere belief or intellectual assent to doctrines and dogmas. Pistis in the translation of the biblical books used by Greek-speaking Jews. . . regularly translated the Hebrew word emun, or emunah (in English translated as “faithfulness,” or “fidelity”). Faith, then, is not at all about some spectacular assurance that Jesus is for real; on the contrary, it has to do with fidelity to God in the daily round of life, recognizing ourselves as servants doing our duty.
However, Jesus assures us that it only takes just a tiny bit of faith, the size of a miniscule speck of a seed, to accomplish what, without any faith at all, would seem utterly impossible, perhaps even pointless. – Lisa Marie Belz
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
The people’s situation in Habakkuk’s time is one of fear. They are about to be invaded by the Chaldeans. God, where are you? cries the prophet. And God’s answer is: “There is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie.” (v3)
The greed of Judean society will ultimately lead to its own ruin as its deep divisions will make it vulnerable to outside forces. Ill-gotten wealth, affluence obtained unjustly, become Judah's newest idols. Indeed, the human condition, Habakkuk observes, is like a fish attracted to bait on a hook; humans worship what will ultimately ensnare and destroy them.
Although God may seem distant, yet does the prophet stubbornly persist in his prayer, and through his persistence is able to discern God's response and God's action in the world and in contemporary political events, even in Judah's enemies, even in the much-dreaded and impending invasion of the Babylonians. It is this vision of God's action in Judah's darkest hour that gives Habakkuk reason to hope and warn about how societal divisions can lead, to a nation's collapse. At the same time, Habakkuk assures us that God is at work, even in the vagaries of history. Those who persist in prayer will be able to perceive God's action in the midst of calamity, drawing greater good from horrific tragedy, and greater life from the ashes of defeat. – Lisa Marie Belz
2 Timothy 1:1-14
A similar faithfulness is evident in the confidence of 2 Timothy 1:6: “God has not given us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.” The entire passage overflows with confidence and encouragement, bringing to mind a stanza of the old hymn: “Just as I am, 'though tossed about,/with many a conflict, many a doubt...” The writer of the hymn, and the author of 2 Timothy, know. . . the need to provide encouragement that fear and doubt do not come from God.
If we consider the ways that fear drives our personal and public life, from locks, guard systems and gated communities, to weapons systems and increasingly punitive prison sentences, we begin to see that a life not motivated by fear is deeply countercultural. . . .
Jesus' teaching invites us to exercise the freedom in giving that God demonstrates, not motivated by either reward or fear of punishment, but rather by the gracious call of God. – Susan Grove Eastman
Lisa Marie Belz, an Ursuline Sister from Cleveland, Ohio, is assistant professor of religious studies and graduate ministry at Ursuline College, Pepper Pike, Ohio.
Susan Grove Eastman, ordained in the Episcopal Church, is associate professor of New Testament at Duke Divinity School, Durham, NC.
Homily Service 40, no. 11 (2007): 3-11.