Friday, March 21, 2008

Pixels of Faith

How much faith do I really need? I know I constantly need the counsel of the Holy Spirit to guide me. And that requires faith. I know I need the strength of the Lord Jesus to empower me every day. And that takes faith. Therefore, I usually conclude that I have at least enough faith to go to Heaven when I die. And I don’t feel I need any more.

However, in several places in the gospels, Jesus threatens religious veterans, like me; with death as they rest on their existing knowledge of a God they thought they knew, but soon realize they had no idea. Matthew 7:23 is one example.

Another condemning quotation of Jesus is found in Luke 17:6, where the disciples ask their master “Increase our faith,” something I have also asked Jesus to do for me on many occasions. Jesus’ response to them has been misquoted as an encouragement for centuries. A popular translation says: “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.” A mustard seed is the smallest seed that can be planted in the ground. But it would soon grow, and one day become the largest of garden plants (Matt 13:32, Mark 4:32). Mustard seeds are not as common in our culture as they were in Jesus day. But something else that is equally as small, powerful and known by most western civilizations are pixels, “the smallest element of an image that can be individually processed in a video display system” ( And like mustard seeds, they too, with a little bit of help, can become something magnificent.

Casual readers could assume two things from this verse: 1) that it is easy to acquire faith, (because all I need to do is have a pixel worth of belief in Jesus), and 2) the results of my faith are, and will always be, amazing. But I argue that this translation is a little bit watered down from what Jesus probably meant, when he first shared this piece of wisdom with His disciples.

Instead, I think Jesus probably said something a little bit more like this: “If you only had as much faith as a pixel, you could say to this Douglas fir, 'Be uprooted and planted in Hudson’s Bay,' and it will obey you. But you don’t even have that much!” I think the disciples believed that, through some sort of telepathic osmosis, they would automatically have as much faith as their teacher because they spent three years, eating, sleeping and breathing Jesus. But even that wasn’t enough. They needed an active ingredient to make their faith alive.

Repeatedly, Jesus questioned His disciples’ (mostly Jewish insiders) ability to do what he asked. They consistently showed a lack of faith in Him and His Father, whom they supposedly knew (John 14:7). But in Matthew 8, a Roman, an outsider, gave an example of faith that Jesus had not seen in his dah-ciples.

As Iraqis despise Americans, Jews despised Romans. A primary reason was that the Romans were stronger, showing their strength over them regularly. So, when a rich-Roman sent his delegates to Jesus, asking Him to come heal his servant, the Jewish crowd responded, “Good! Something is wrong with those Romans!”

Peter was exasperated with the servant. “Can’t you see that He’s busy? Jesus came for us Jews, not for you Gentiles (non-Jew)!”

Andrew piped up, “You don’t believe in Jesus anyway, you believe in your lord. Go ask him to heal your servant!”

But Jesus responded to the Roman servant, “I will go and heal him.”

But as He turned to follow the Centurion’s servant, Peter and Andrew, exasperated that Jesus would give anyone else but them any attention, exclaimed in chorus, “Rabbi, you’re going the wrong way!”

As the crowd shifted their route to follow the Roman’s servant, their footsteps grew heavier, they moved slower and continued to badger Jesus. “What are you doing, you once called a Samaritan a ‘dog!’ (Matthew 15:26) That’s what we expected you to say to this Roman! We hate them, don’t you hate them too? You’re one of us, and are here for us! Aren’t you?”

Ten minutes later, another servant came with more news from the dreaded Roman’s house. “My master says, ‘I am not worthy to have You, Jesus, come to my house. You are righteous, I am sinful. And besides, it’s not clean enough for you to enter. Just heal him from here. I know you can do this, because I ask my servants and slaves to do their jobs, and they do it. You have shown authority to heal, so you are certainly able to do what you say.’”

If he could have, Jesus would have leapt for joy. “Why can’t these Jews have as much faith as your master? I haven’t met anyone in all of Israel who has as much faith as him.” Then turning to the crowds, Jesus said, “This man, and many foreigners like him will certainly join Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in my Father’s kingdom, and they are outsiders! Don’t you Jewish insiders understand what it takes to join him in Heaven too? You’ve been learning about it for years! But if you don’t, you won’t.”

Turning back to the rich-Roman’s servant, Jesus said, “You may go, your fellow servant is healed because you believed he could be.”

In Jesus day, Jewish boys would be overwhelmed with an understanding of Yahweh and the Torah (first five books of the Bible). Calling oneself a Jew (an insider) would undoubtedly be an honor they would be proud of for the rest of their lives. Today, children raised in Christian families may also be overwhelmed with the Bible, church and Sunday school, and may or may not be proud of their faith. But Jesus encourages insiders, to use their pixel of faith, rather than ask for more, so it may grow to become a support to others in need. Then, weather you are an in or out-sider you may do the same as the Roman centurion did.


Mr Pineapples said...

Nice post

Anonymous said...

dear david you should blog more.