Why Faith Can Move Mountains
The Gospels repeat stories of the power of faith. FR RALPH DE HAHN reflects on some examples.
Without faith, “it is impossible to please God”, St Paul said. “Only faith can guarantee the blessings we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen” (Hebrews 11).
For St Thomas Aquinas, “faith opens the door to understanding”, and John the Evangelist reminds us that faith is the only power that can overcome the world (Jn 5:4)
Now we need to refresh our understanding of faith as it is so clearly manifested in the life of Jesus, as recorded by the four evangelists.
We may tend to believe that Our Lord, in performing his many miracles, did actually reverse the order of nature. But that isn’t so. In fact, Jesus cooperated with the natural law, and called upon the recipients and witnesses to his miracles to believe in themselves, and in Jesus as Lord.
He himself said: “If you have this faith, you can move mountains” (Mt 17:20). And that is exactly what he meant. Even walking on water!
What we need to believe is that faith is the only real power that can do the impossible. And in that we must understand the decisive role played by that person asking for a healing.
Jesus made an astonishing declaration: “He who believes in me will perform the same works as I do—and he will perform even greater works” (Jn 14:12, my emphasis).
Although it is evident that Our Lord did perform some extraordinary miracles—feedings of multitudes, raising people from the dead—others were faith-healings.
‘Your faith has saved you’
There are a number of encounters where the faith of the individual is dominant.
- Jesus asked the blind man Bartimaeus: “Do you believe that I can do this for you?” He professed his belief. “Your faith has saved you” (Mt 9:28).
- A woman contending with an unspecified blood illness over 12 years stretches out to touch only his garment, believing (Lk 8:48).
- The pagan Canaanite mother whose daughter was possessed by an evil spirit will pester the Master even for the “crumbs” until Jesus answers her cry (Mt 15:28).
- The sinner who threw herself repenting at his feet with precious oils and tears (Lk 7:50).
In every one of these encounters there was the same response: “Your faith has saved you.”
Then we have that amazing story of the Roman centurion in Capernaum whose servant is dying. Knowing full well that a Jew would be labelled “unclean” if he ventured into the home of a pagan, he pleads: “I am not worthy to have you under my roof; just give the word and my servant will be healed.”
And Jesus’ response has meaning to all Christians: “In no one in Israel have I found faith as great as this!”
To the centurion, he said: “Go back, then; let this be done for you, as your faith demands.” And the servant was cured at that moment (Mt 8:5-13).
Recall also the episode of Jesus coming four days late after the death of his friend Lazarus (Jn 11). Jesus assures Martha, who has reprimanded him for his late arrival, that her brother will rise again: “Have I not told you that if you believe you will see the glory of God?”
Everything is possible
Everything is possible for anyone who has this unshakeable faith (Mk 9:23).
There are a number of instances where the Master did not perform any miracles, “because of their lack of faith”. Even his own apostles were unable to perform miracles or cast out devils (Mt 17:19).
Jesus assured his followers: “If you, with no hesitation in your hearts, believe it will happen as you say, it will be done for you; believe that you have it already, and it will be yours” (Mk:11:23).
We know that our Lord condemned the Pharisees and Elders of that generation who demanded “a sign”, but without believing; he named them “a wicked and unfaithful generation” (Lk 11:29).
Jesus never performed any wonder works to prove that he was the promised Christ, to give the sceptics “a sign”. It was all motivated by compassion and love, and caring for the class of people named “sinners”—the poor, the oppressed and the outcast of that society.
It is from this class of believers that we hear the cry, “I do have faith, Lord, help the little faith that I have” (Mk 9:25).
St Paul reminds us that “it is by God’s grace that you have been saved through faith, and not by anything you have done, but by a gift from God” (Eph 2:8).
And again he prays: “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith, planted in love…he who is able to accomplish far more than all you can ask or imagine by the power (of faith) at work within you” (3:17-21).
Living in faith gives a deeper meaning to our lives; it is a gift we need to appreciate, and pray it will grow in depth.
We also know that faith and hope work together. There is no room for despair.
St Thomas Aquinas said it well: Reason is the perfection of the senses and faith is the perfection of the reason.
Fr Ralph de Hahn is a priest of the archdiocese of Cape Town.