Addendum – Chapter 7 – Faith and Perseverance (part 2), pp. 159-168

Blessings, my friends, and praise to God our Father in our Lord Jesus Christ. May we always be open to being taught by the Spirit most Holy.

I am offering this addendum to my last entry as a separate post because I thought it too important to enter as a comment where it might be missed.

I am slowly working my way through an online Catholic Bible study and am learning so much it is mind-boggling. Since one of the things I learned was directly related to my last post, I wanted to share it – both for the sake of its content as well as the object lesson.

When discussing doubt and reliance on reason, I loosely cited the words of Jesus about being able to move mountains if we had enough faith – this being one of those teachings that had left me puzzled. In my current study of the Gospel of Mark, I gained a whole new understanding of what this teaching might mean.

Duh. Perhaps you already knew and were sparing my feelings. (If so, please don’t spare my feelings anymore. Educate me! I’m trying to educate myself but it’s a slow process…)

In any event, I will first cite the passage in question with greater clarity:

“Amen, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it shall be done for him.” (Mark 11:23, NABRE translation, emphasis mine.)

It is noteworthy, I learned, that Jesus apparently referenced a particular mountain in this well-known verse. He wasn’t suggesting that, by faith, we could all go around moving mountains into the sea if they got in our way. So what mountain was he referring to?

If we look at this verse in context, we discover that it follows that weird passage where Jesus cursed the fig tree for not having any fruit (out of season) and where the tree was later seen to have withered. What does all of this mean?

One thing I didn’t know – but apparently the people of Israel at that time would have known, is that the fig tree is a traditional symbol of Israel. Hence, Jesus was apparently cursing Israel for not bearing fruit and, in the tree’s withering, making a visible prophecy about the future of Jerusalem*. (I will cite my sources at the end of the post.)

So, I learned, this “mountain” is presumed to be a reference to Mt. Zion – the location of Jerusalem*. It is also possible that Jesus was alluding to Zechariah’s vision (4:7) in which there was a great mountain that Zerubbabel had to clear away in order to rebuild the Temple following its first destruction*.

Hence, when Jesus is referring to moving a mountain by faith, He may have been drawing a parallel, suggesting that Jerusalem and its current Temple had to be pushed aside in order to create a new Temple built of Christian believers*.

Not an easy mountain to move but I can now comprehend why Jesus would have said this to His disciples and how faith in this regard was and is so very important.

But what particularly fascinates (and shames) me is how my doubting mind could struggle with Jesus’ words but never take the step of actually studying Scripture. I just assumed that He expected my faith to be strong enough to cast Mt. Everest into the Arabian sea.

Of course, God can cast any mountain into any sea He pleases – and He could, hypothetically, use me as His instrument for doing so. But for me to get stuck on this point without further investigation is, in retrospect, foolish. Should I not be more curious as to why Jesus would say such a thing?

Had He said that I could heal people by faith, that would not arouse quite so much curiosity. After all, He was healing people and sending out His disciples to do the same. But Scripture doesn’t recount casting mountains into the sea as part of the ministry of the Kingdom.

The sad reality is that whatever curiosity I might have had in the past has often fizzled out largely because of two factors.

First, I am lazy and tend to read Scripture as though it were a book that I could understand by simply reading it. And if I don’t understand certain parts, I just skip over them or come up with my own “explanations” (see discussion on opinions in last post).

Second, I have not known where to go to learn more. Although the tides are beginning to turn, the Western Church has (sadly) given little attention to Scripture study. While having received more formal religious education than the average American, I have never taken a single course on Scripture study – and do not remember ever seeing one offered at the schools I attended.

And so, with doors opening up before me, I wish to share – both about the mountains we are meant to move – and about how we can begin to understand the Bible better. Many individual parishes now offer classes on Scripture. And I will share my online resource. Most of its “Catholic” orientation should make no difference to our diverse readership. But I invite my Orthodox readers, as well as any others, to use the comment section to share any resources that may be helpful and generally accessible.

It may help us be less afraid. And strengthen us in Faith and Perseverance.

+++

*References:

  1. For online Bible study, I have started listening to some of the audio courses at St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. Thus far, I have listened to courses on the Gospel of John and the Gospel of Mark. Both have been excellent and some of the ideas from this post are derived from the course on the Gospel of Mark.
  2. As a companion to this study, I have obtained the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, second edition RSV. (I am hoping they will come out with an Old Testament edition as well.) This Bible has lengthy footnotes and explanatory pages that generally give an indication as to the general origins of the explanations, e.g. Scriptural continuity of Old and New Testaments, Church’s tradition drawing from Fathers, saints, etc. Much of my content interpretation in this post was drawn from these footnotes.
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4 thoughts on “Addendum – Chapter 7 – Faith and Perseverance (part 2), pp. 159-168

  1. Hi Mary,

    What gives me pause about bible study groups is the questions they raise. For example, if the word “this” in the mountain passage could have three reference points (Zion, Zechariah’s vision, and any obstacle removed by faith), what about that same word in the crucial passage, “this is my body”?

    Then there are the troublesome issues of hindsight (Mark’s vantage point 30-40 years later) and foresight (Jesus’s comments about taking up our crosses and following– which must have made no sense at the time if he actually said that).

    I realize that scripture is not history. Nor is it literature, as we understand that term. But it seems as though some need it to be one or the other, and some think of it as both, and of course many think of it as “God’s word,” whatever that really means.

    I can get lost in discussions, both with friends and with myself, so often that I decided not to think about these things, but just to listen to my priest on Sunday, then try to do what he always says eventually about prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and Liturgical services.

    But I’m glad that you are finding greater peace in your studies.

  2. I commend you for your healthy boundaries, Al. For what is given to me to learn and obey is certainly not going to be the same thing as what you are given. I will add a couple more comments but they are not intended to be persuasive, because it sounds like you are following the track God has given you.

    To clarify, for any who are interested in the links I offered, they are not groups or places of discussion but the recorded lectures of an expert – interestingly someone who converted to Catholicism from Evangelical Protestantism because of what he encountered in Scripture study.

    This does not make his interpretations correct, of course. Perhaps there is no “correct”, in human terms – for, if God’s Word is living, there may be many ways it may speak to different people at different times. A single “correct” answer would stifle this dynamic quality of the Word.

    What was perhaps of greater importance to me in writing this post was my awareness of how readily I can 1. doubt, 2. dismiss, 3. skip over, or 4. make up my own interpretations of Scriptural passages without having made ANY attempt to read what others have concluded – either going to original sources, like the Church Fathers, or more realistically, to trustworthy scholars who have done some of that research for me.

    Not only do I potentially fall into doubt or boredom more easily this way but I simply miss out on the depth and richness of Scripture. I go hungry in the presence of a great feast, not realizing how hungry I am and not realizing that there is a great feast within my reach.

    Now I realize that there may be many people who are light years ahead of me – who have already studied Scripture and have resources they consult. Many may be guided directly by the Spirit to understand the Word. So I am not suggesting that this is a dilemma for all Christians. But I think that, in the Catholic Church, my experience is not unique.

    Some of our priests teach Scripture very well from the pulpit but others do not. And I’m sure similar variability has occurred in Catholic education. As a child of Vatican II, my religious education was colored by change and questioning much more than tradition. So I offer what I offer in the event that God gave it to me to help someone besides myself.

    I do not know that I am finding peace in this manner but perhaps a stimulation I need to stay awake. Thanks be to God for keeping me awake and giving more and more ways to grow.

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