• Gabriel von Wendt

Sat, August 11, 2018 - Faith empowers

Matthew 17:14-22

A man came up to Jesus, knelt down before him, and said, "Lord, have pity on my son, who is a lunatic and suffers severely; often he falls into fire, and often into water. I brought him to your disciples, but they could not cure him." Jesus said in reply, "O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you? Bring the boy here to me." Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him, and from that hour the boy was cured. Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said, "Why could we not drive it out?" He said to them, "Because of your little faith. Amen, I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you."

Scientia potentia est. This aphorism is attributed to Francis Bacon and expresses the modern conviction that knowledge is power, in the sense that, if you know something, you can also do it. If you know the laws of nature, you can control and direct it.

In today's Gospel, we could identify a similar aphorism: Fides potentia est. For Jesus seems to say that, if you only have enough faith, you can do anything. “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”


Two “sources of power,” knowledge and faith, seem to produce two “kinds of power.” Let us reflect more about that difference.

Everyday life is full of examples of how, thanks to knowledge, we have gained power over nature. We can produce, and fly, and communicate in so powerful manners because we (or someone else) understand how. Knowledge enables us to the kind of power which we can call *control*. And control means to bend reality to our own will.


The power Jesus talks about is of a different kind however. In fact, no knowledge on earth seems to enable a single man to reposition a mountain by a mere will or command. Jesus’ power is more than controlling reality, by bending it to one's will. Jesus’ power is somehow elevating reality, by confiding it wholly to God's will.


The two forms of power are fundamentally different, in the same way as their respective sources are different. In fact, it was, and probably is, a frequent error in the history of religion to identify faith with a special kind of knowledge. The most vulgar form of that so called “gnostic” tendency is magic: the assumption that supernatural power is accessible by means of secret knowledge (words, spells, recipes, gestures, and so forth). In the case of magic or superstition, faith, knowledge, and power are blent together in a way which caters to a very basic and yet shallow desire of mankind: to control reality by one's own will. It is no coincidence that the early modern scientists, who were so ardently committed to “Scientia potentia est,” were often inclined to magical views too. Man wants control. Man wants power. Man wants to bend reality to his will.


The disciples were probably trying very hard to help the lunatic. They were trying to will the cure. We can imagine how they must have employed all their knowledge and will power. And yet, “ they could not cure him.” Were they maybe trying to control the situation?



Jesus promises another kind of power, a power which stems from faith. He was quite vexed about the “faithless generation” and seeks to redefine their approach to power. He does not empower us to simply control, he wants us to elevate reality. Man's fall into sin has, in fact, degenerated reality and pulled it down. By sinning, man has compromised reality’s submission to God's will, has ripped it from His loving reign in order to play the role of a god himself: bending reality to his human will. Allowing the seed of faith take hold of our lives, on the other hand, means to re-allow and affirm God's reign in the world. This is Jesus’ invitation of today: Allow God to rule reality. To rule your reality. No power is greater and better. To affirm this by faith, em-powers you. Faith empowers. Fides potentia est.

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