“The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the 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.” Matthew 13
Having the faith of a mustard seed. It is perhaps one of the better known quotes of the bible. It is also one that has on more than one occasion given me pause. The mustard seed is so tiny, and yet contains the potential do so much. Is my faith so great that it could grow like a mustard seed?
This week we will look at faith as described in Matthew’s Gospel through the lens of a saint who is commemorated on each day. Today is the traditional feast of St. Elijah, the prophet.
Elijah, whose name means “I am with Yahweh” is next to Moses the most important prophet of Israel. He is known for his dedication to Yahweh and calling the kings of Israel to repentance. But Elijah also shows us what mustard seed faith looks like.
Elijah embodies performative faith, that is faith backed up with action. His deeds, whether it was calling fire down from the heavens, the miracle of feeding Zarephath’s wife and son the duration of a drought with one jar of flour and oil, or the raising of that same son from the dead, connect the love of God to the service of neighbor. So great was the hope and trust in God of Elijah that he became the symbol of hope for Jews, who set a chalice for him at every Passover Sedar.
For Luther, faith was most clearly seen in the work we do for our neighbor. Christ is central to our believing. It is not the act of our believing that makes the difference, but the and centrality of Christ’s promise for us that produces faith itself which in turn is the font of our acts of love. Faith is not the bargaining chip of salvation, it is the conduit from the source of all being to witnessing to Christ’s love for the world through word and deed.
Elijah was but one small man. But the faith shown through his witness remains a great tree in which many a bird has rested.