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Matthew 17:14 – 23

If you have faith as a mustard seed nothing will be impossible for you. Brothers and sisters in Christ today’s gospel occurs immediately after the Transfiguration of Christ on Mount Tabor. You will remember in that gospel the disciples were transfigured and able to see the divinity of Christ without understanding what they saw. You will recall that they fell on their faces and were greatly afraid when they heard the voice coming out of a cloud saying this is my beloved son whom I am well pleased. Hear him.

In today’s gospel a father approaches Jesus on his knees and asks for mercy on behalf of his son who is seeking to be healed from his demon. Note that he had been to the disciples first and they failed to cure him. Christ responds by saying “oh faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you? Bring him here to me.” Jesus then rebuked the Demon and it came out. Jesus remarks about a faithless and perverse generation are addressed, not to the father who has come in all humility to seek mercy for his son, but to his disciples who not only failed to carry out the healing but who also failed to seek out Christ’s help for this afflicted person so he could be healed.

In not referring their failure to Jesus Christ, the disciples, who are unnamed and therefore presumably Christ’s comments are directed to all of them, clearly felt it unimportant to trouble the master over this one person and further did not appear to overly concern themselves that they had failed this one afflicted person. Perhaps they were busy with other healings or with other aspects of ministry and soon forgot about this failure. However one person did not forget – namely the father who on behalf of his afflicted son, in his faith approached Christ.

Was Christ upset with his disciples? Absolutely. Christ had selected his disciples for a great purpose, namely to lead his church. What he did not do was force their understanding. He could have, through his will, enlightened them, however what Christ does not do is impose his will upon others but calls upon his disciples to follow him. Hence, he was allowing them to come to terms with their ministry and to come to terms in their own time, their own understanding and their own maturity. In the case of the afflicted son they failed in their ministry to cure the sick and afflicted. As a loving father and Shepherd Christ instructs them as to why they failed.

When asked by the disciples “why could we not cast [the Demon] out?” Jesus was to the point: “because of your unbelief”. This is a sharp and clear rebuke to them. It demonstrates that the disciples had a long way to go in matters of faith. Indeed Christ said “if you have faith as a mustard seed you will say to this mountain move from here to here and it will move”. Here Christ is not talking about the size of faith by referring to a mustard seed but to the quality of faith. After all, it is faith that is defined by Paul in Chapter 11 of Hebrews as the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen that allows our relationship with God to grow.

Each of us here today can learn a valuable lesson about faith. We all claim to belong to Christ and that is why we are here today joined in the liturgy. However we should ask ourselves the question “does the way we lead our lives today support our faith in Christ”? What more can we do so that we can help our faith grow in Christ. Faith is “I believe” and not “I know”. I believe is the substance of things hoped for whereas I know is a verifiable fact. Knowledge is different to faith and you can only know God through faith.

At the heart of faith is total surrender to God. This surrender is voluntary and must be initiated by each one of us. It is thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven and NOT my will be done. Surrender is not a negative idea. We give ourselves in surrender to Christ not out of fear or sense of duty but because he loved us first. As St Paul puts it in chapter 12 of Romans “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service”.

How do we do this? May I suggest to you that the first thing we need to do is to trust God. Now this is a difficult teaching. You will not surrender to God unless you trust him and you will not trust him until you know him better. It is fear that keeps us from surrender but we know that love casts out all fear and the more we realise that God loves us the greater that love will grow. Trust means to stand at the edge of the abyss in total darkness and to leap into the emptiness in the confidence that you will be caught in the arms of the living God. Now we know that God loved us so much that he gave his only begotten son so that whoever believed in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. Accordingly and indeed, there is every reason to trust in God and accordingly surrender voluntarily to Him.

Another thing we need to do to surrender to God is to admit our limitations. We all think that we are capable of making all decisions in our lives for ourselves. We do not believe that we do not know what is best for us. This desire for complete control in each of our lives really is no more than our pride speaking to each of us. Pride forms a barrier to total surrender to God. Putting aside pride is extremely difficult, however unless we do that we will never be able to stand before God and admit that he is in charge of our lives. If, however, we can do this then we become an instrument, full of faith, working for the greater glory of God.

Surrender to God therefore is an empowering act. It allows you to have the ability to better understand what it is that God wants you to do with your life. Obedience to God will follow and flow from surrender to him. You cannot call Jesus Christ your Lord if you refuse to obey him. Obedience to him of course means that you have total trust in him. This trust is to ensure that God’s will is done and not your will and we have in Christ himself and in his crucifixion the best example of self surrender. Christ himself declares his future in today’s gospel and makes clear that he will be betrayed and be killed and on the third day be raised up. He does this as total surrender to the will of the Father.

Brothers and sisters in Christ our surrender to God and his will can only be done through faith. In today’s gospel we have had demonstrated that faith is not arrived at as a matter of course but must be worked upon. Let us not fall away from our quest to totally surrender ourselves to God in faith by allowing our pride and arrogance to act as a barrier as the disciples did. Rather let us in all humility remember “thy will be done” let us all have the courage and confidence to jump into the abyss knowing that whatever may happen God will be there for each and every one of us. Amen.