Harvest time is here, though most of us
suburbanites have so little contact with the earth and its cultivation that we
must take our seasonal cue from Halloween decorations and the color of leaves.
We are not involved in the back-breaking task of an agricultural harvest, but
there are certainly other sorts of harvests at which to be busy.
The Bible, written in an agrarian
setting, frequently compares the realities of the religious life to the harvest.
Perhaps the passage in Galatians about the fruit of the Spirit is the best
known. Then there is the language in the Apocalypse about the coming harvest of
souls at the end of the age. But I would like to direct your thoughts for a
moment to yet another harvest analogy in the Gospel of
In Luke 17:6 Jesus teaches concerning
faith that one needn't have very much of it to accomplish very great things. "If
you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree,
'Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea!,' and it would obey you."
Note the contrast between the microscopic
size of the seed and the overwhelming magnitude of the result! The implicit
image is that of the great yield of a harvest. As Jesus put it in another
parable, "Other seeds fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up
and increasing and yielding thirty-fold and sixty-fold and a hundred-fold" (Mark
Just so, in Luke's parable, the modicum
of faith is tiny in the same way a seed is tiny, and the miraculous result is
great in the same way the harvest is great. In nature we take it for granted
that a tiny thing gives birth to a great result. What we must be brought to see
is that it is the same in the life of prayer: a miserable speck of faith is big
enough! Do not hesitate to plant it!
Here is the great prototype of a sower
going forth to sow with but a single grain of mustard seed: the desperate father
of a demoniac-epileptic brings his son to Jesus and asks, without much hope, "If
you can do anything, have pity on us and help us."
Jesus is affronted: "'If you can!
All things are possible to him who believes." The father is not daunted by the
stinging rebuke. Battered but unbowed, much like the rebuffed Syrian woman of
Mark 7:24-30, the father replies, "I believe; help my unbelief!"
Here is possibly the greatest teaching of
the Bible concerning prayer, for all that it is spoken not by Jesus or by an
apostle, but by an anonymous face only momentarily emerging from the crowd! With
his desperate, pathetic cry he planted the grain of mustard seed! And the
result? His boy was healed. You will find no greater allegory of the
all-conquering power of an atom's weight of faith.
Matthew, too, was much concerned to make
this point. In how many of Matthew's miracle stories does Jesus perform some
great work in response to what he himself calls "little faith" -- little, but
Let me now stand aside and share with you
the thoughts of the great Nineteenth Century preacher Phillips Brooks, from his
sermon, "The Law of Growth": "Suppose that out of the
world there should be slowly or suddenly destroyed all the seed of corn except
one handful, just so much as one man could hold in his palm. Can you picture to
yourself the care with which that handful would be guarded? Can you imagine the
interest that would gather about it, the poetry and dearness that would be in
it; how men, looking at it and knowing it to be the real thing, - true, real
corn, - would see in it the assurance of days yet to come when all the fields
should wave once more with harvests? That is the way in which you ought to
treasure your faith if there is not much of it, if little by little it has
slipped away from you. You say it has grown to be very little. You say that many
things which you used to believe seem to you no longer to be true. You stand
holding in your hand the remnant of a faith. What then? Is it real? Is it true
faith? Whether it be little or great, do you really believe it? If you do, then
surely that belief ought to be very precious to you. A little, a very little
belief it may be, - nevertheless treasure it because it is belief, instead of
despising it because it is little. Value it for its
quality, instead of dishonoring it because of its quantity. As you look into it
behold its possibilities. See in its meagreness the promise and power of a great
and manifold belief that may yet some day cover your whole life with verdure.
Put it where it will be safe; and the only place where a faith ever can be safe
is in the shrine of an action. Put it there. Do what belief would tempt and
command you to do; and trust to its true quality to grow under the care of God,
who knows in heaven every particle of true faith that there is scattered about
the earth. In his sight it is all too precious to forget."
The seed of your faith may be tiny,
almost invisible, but do not hesitate to cast it into the ground! Who knows what
great harvest may result!
Robert M. Price