Have a Little Faith
by the Rev. F. Robert Tafel
minister of the Swedenborgian Church in Cambridge, MA
In the January, 1995 Issue of Our Daily Bread
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If only they could have more faith - the disciples of Jesus felt surely they would be able to meet the demands of life, and live up tot he kind of love their Lord and Master taught them to have.

If only their faith could somehow be magnified or amplified - made bigger and stronger - certainly then everything would be all right. Jesus had just given them a very high ideal toward which they were to strive. If someone sinned against them, they were to speak up and rebuke the sin. They were not to suffer passively in silence. But if the offender turned and asked forgiveness, they were to give it, even if this were to happen time after time in the same day. They were not to count offenses; instead, Jesus used the symbolic number of seven to represent however many times the problem would occur.

I can understand why the disciples asked for help at that point. Perhaps you can, also. Forgiveness, real forgiveness, is one of the most difficult virtues to achieve. Failure to forgive is a real problem. It hardens the guilt of the offender, and makes it harder to change evil habits. But it is worse for the unmerciful victim. When genuine sorrow for wrongdoing is expressed and forgiveness is asked, the one not showing mercy is hurt more than the offender.

Jesus taught this basic truth directly, without qualification. "Hate hurts the hater." Aren't we sort of in the position of the disciples? We know this, at least in a general way. But the problem is in the application. When someone close to us irks us in the same way time after time, it is hard to forgive - at least after the first or second time! It is hard to forgive when feelings have been hurt - deeply, or "unforgettably." No wonder the disciples implored Jesus, "Increase our faith!" They felt the need for more faith. Clearly that was not the only time, either. Jesus' reply about having faith like a mustard seed is recorded by Matthew in a different context, when the disciples were unable to heal a boy possessed by demons. They had been able to heal by praying and invoking Jesus' name before; why not this time? Jesus told them they simply needed to have a little faith. If they had faith like a mustard seed, they could say to the mountain, "Be moved into the sea," - and it would.

"Have a little faith." The disciples pleaded with Jesus to increase their faith. And, in effect, He told them to just have a little bit of faith, like a tiny, tiny grain of mustard seed. Enigmatic. Puzzling. So typical of the Lord who used parable stories, metaphors, comparisons, to illustrate some truth.

Uprooting trees...moving mountains,,,these sayings have endeared themselves to countless generations, as symbols of great faith. Swedenborgians have found, and can find, treasures of meaning beyond the literal symbols of faith that is able to move mountains.

Emanuel Swedenborg discovered the way the Bible can speak to us through the language of correspondences. He sets this language out for us to understand and grasp so that it is not some secret code, but a deeper way for the Bible to speak to us as the Word of God. When Jesus spoke and delivered His parable stories and comparisons, they appear on the literal level as simply metaphorical, whereas on a deeper level, through correspondence, they refer to spiritual realities. The spiritual realities appear as objects of nature.

In today's story, the uprooting of trees and moving of mountains are metaphorical instances of powerful faith. But on a deeper level, moving mountains and uprooting trees refer to spiritual happenings. The spiritual mountains that we need to move are our loves which have not been regenerated, brought into line with heavenly values and affections. Like our love of ourselves and our love of the world. To love oneself and the world is necessary and useful and good so long as this love is subordinate to our love of the Lord and of the neighbor. The Lord reaffirmed these loves in saying that the first and great commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and strength and soul, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself.

When our first consideration is always ourselves, then that love has become a mountain which needs to be moved In like manner, when love of ourselves is supreme, all of our thoughts and values are about and have to do with ourselves. Like the roots of a tree entangled in all our thoughts. The ideas and principles and values we hold to be true are distorted and need to be uprooted. In the spiritual world, according to Swedenborg's testimony, all of the scenery we see is caused by and has reference to the kind of persons we actually area.

So we can move mountains. We can uproot trees. And we only need to have a little bit of faith to do so. A little bit of faith like the tiny, tiny mustard seed.

Scripture:

Jesus said to His disciples, "Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, "I repent," you must forgive.

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and planted in the sea," and it would obey you.

"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!"

Luke 17:1-10

Reading from Swedenborg:

If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed ye would say unto this sycamine-tree, Be though rooted up and be thou planted in the sea, and it would obey you (Luke 17:6).

That this is to be understood otherwise than according to the words is evident form its being said to the disciples, that "If they had faith as a grain of mustard seed they would be able to pluck up a mountain or a sycamine-tree from its place, and cast it into the sea"; also that "all things whatsoever they asked they should receive"; and yet it is not according to Divine order for us to receive what we ask if we only have faith, or for the disciples to pluck up a mountain or a tree form its place and cast it into the sea. But "faith" here means faith from the Lord, consequently it is called "the faith of God," and he who is in faith from the Lord asks fro nothing but what contributes to the Lord's kingdom and himself for salvation; other things he does not wish, saying in his heart, Why should I ask for what does not contribute to this use? Therefore if he were to ask for anything except what is granted him from the Lord to ask he would have no faith of God, that is, no faith from the Lord. It is impossible for angels of heaven to wish and so to ask for anything else, and if they were to do so they could have no faith that they would receive it. The Lord compared such faith to the ability and power to cast a mountain or sycamine-tree into the sea because the Lord spoke here as well as elsewhere by correspondences, and therefore these words must be understood spiritually. For a "mountain" signifies the love of self and of the world, thus the love of evil; and a "sycamine-tree" signifies the faith of that love, which is a faith in falsity from evil, and the "sea" signifies hell; therefore "to pluck a mountain and cast it into the sea by the faith of God" signifies to cast these loves, which in themselves are diabolical, into hell, and likewise the faith in falsity from evil; and this is done through faith from the Lord.

Apocalypse Explained #814

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