"Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." Matthew 17. 20
The other day I was listening to someone talking frankly about a challenging season in their life. They entered that season full of bravado, confident that their faith would get them through. It didn't. The problem did not lie in the object of their faith (God) but in the quality of their faith. Looking back they described the faith they used to have as big but frothy - like candy-floss. As soon as things got serious their candy-floss faith dissolved.
Happily it did not dissolve into nothing. There remained a tiny bit - like a grain of mustard. Just enough to rebuild that person's confidence in God and in their ability to live fruitfully and faithfully.
Perhaps the most famous definition of faith is that found at Hebrews 11. 1: "Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." For the Christian that encompasses both what we read in the Bible, which is the testimony of others, and our own experience of God at work in our lives: his Spirit dwelling within us, his still small voice checking us and guiding us.
So what are we to make of Jesus' words on the matter? They too can mean at least two things. Firstly they speak comfort to those whose faith is weak or small: you don't need much for it to make a significant impact. Secondly they speak encouragement to all believers: if this is what a little faith can achieve, imagine the potential of a growing faith? We don't need to imagine. Jesus spells it out: "Nothing will be impossible for you."
A naive interpretation of this extraordinary promise would be to rub ones hands in glee at the prospect of all that power and wealth. A cynical response would be to dismiss the notion as simply not true. The fact is that such pronouncements need to be understood in their context. Jesus is not talking about faith as some kind of "gold card" granting instant satisfaction of our every whim and fancy. He is referring to God's commitment to realising his good purposes in every situation for all of those who put their faith in him.
And when we apply our faith together, the effect is formidable. On another occasion Jesus declares: "... even the gates of hell will not prevail..." (Matthew 16. 18)