Like many of you, I have pets. Two cats, Spooky and Mia. We’ve had each of them over a decade, and they are a wonderful part of our lives.
Twice a day, I scoop up my cat Spooky and squirt a tube full of antibiotics in her mouth. Suffice to say she doesn’t much like that experience. After I do it, she occasionally expresses her displeasure by spitting up the medicine. And yet, twice a day, because in her odd feline way she loves me and because she trusts that I love her, too, she lets me pick her up and hold her like a football, squeeze her jaw open a bit, and squirt in the meds.
PH and I joke that she is either the stupidest cat in the world or the most gullible, but I do think that on some level she does trust me. Even if she remembers what’s coming, she trusts me enough to let me give her the medicine because she knows I would do nothing to harm her.
She trusts me. She has, in a way, faith in me.
I, on the other hand, instinctively flinch when I’m at the doctor’s and the nurse comes at me with the hypodermic. Rationally, I know what she is doing is good for me. I know that she means me no harm, and that whatever pain there will be will be very brief. But do I trust? No. I flinch.
That’s the challenge that Jesus poses for us in today’s gospel. Faith, at its heart, is about trust. It is about trust and belief in the love and benevolence of God. Jesus is challenging us to grow our level of trust and belief. He rightly says that our faith may be very tiny, just like a grain of mustard. Yet still, we can exercise that faith, believe in God, respond even in the smallest measure, and it will be loved by God.
And that’s the thing that our pets know even better than us. If the human in your life loves you, you should trust in them, and have faith that they will look out for you. Pets know this, even with their limited rational capacities.
So how is it that we smart humans have a hard time having faith in the benevolent God who has given us all we have? Why don’t we trust that he hears us and cares for us?
Maybe part of it is that we remember much better than Spooky the cat does. We think of the times that we forgot to pray, or that we prayed and God’s answer was not what we wanted. We also think of the times that we have failed to be all that God had hoped for us, and we think that we are unworthy.
And in those moments, when our faith and trust in God is smaller than even the tiniest mustard seed, and our faith in ourselves is even less, it’s good to remind ourselves that we’re not the first to struggle with this. Think of the story that we hear in the epistle today, in 2 Timothy. Paul writes to encourage Timothy, who may be having some doubts about his ability to carry on Paul’s work. And one of the ways Paul does that encouraging is to remind Timothy that everything he learned about faith, he learned from his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. He learned young at the knee of his mother and his grandmother, as so many of us did, of the gift of God within him. And Paul continues to encourage him by reminding him that the gift of grace has always been in him, and in all believers, because of Jesus, who “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
Faith is hard. Trust is hard in a world where many are not to be trusted, where there are false messages everywhere you look. But we are given the grace to believe. We learned it from those who taught it to us, whether they were our mothers and grandmothers, or teachers in Sunday School, or pastors, or wise friends. The grace is in us, just as the instinct to love and trust us is in our animal companions. Let us learn faith from all the places we can, even in the most surprising of teachers, who bark and meow and chirp their song of praise to their creator.