During Luke’s journey his spaceship has become submerged in the murky swamps of the planet. To test him Yoda challenges Luke to use his Force capabilities to raise the X-wing from the depths. Since Luke is still learning, he thinks he does not have the ability to raise it out of the swamp and he gives up. Yoda, however – 900 years old in the story – shows him that it is as he uses his mastery of the powers of the Force to raise the ship and plant it back on dry ground. Luke, awed by the power of this old Jedi, approaches him and blurts out “I don’t believe it!” Yoda, ever looking for a teaching moment, responds quickly and clearly, “That is why you fail.”
In the story, Luke doesn’t succeed in raising the ship because he has no faith. As he learns about the Force and his awareness and his faith grows, he becomes more open and sees things in new ways – in ways he wasn’t able to see them before.
While Star Wars isn’t the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Gospel from today’s liturgy reminds us that this message about faith and its possibilities is an anchor for the Christian life and the power of God at work in our lives!
Faith provides the firm ground on which we stand to do all that we do in the Christian life. But we must always remember that faith is a gift.
The analogy of gifts is also found in our first reading from the book of Deuteronomy, in which Moses reminds the people that the land of Palestine, which they are about to enter, is not something they will own or possess, it is a gift from God. In fact, he reminds them that the Law itself – the Torah – is a divine gift. What do you do with a gift if not hold it close to your heart, place it where you will be reminded of the giver, and be happy and thankful for the gift. This is what Moses tells the people to do. It was a message which biblical Israel slowly learned over its centuries of history, eventually realizing – as we hear in prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah – that the gift of the land given to Israel and the gift of the Law is but a reminder of the ways God has given us the whole of the earth and all who we are as a gift too!
The gift of faith can help us see that the whole world is a gift – as Pope Francis points out in his encyclical Laudato Si. And not only the world but all the people on it are a gift worthy of thanksgiving and praise. We treat the earth and we treat other people with care and dignity recognizing both as gifts from God.
The gift of faith also gives us a broader perspective; a way that sometimes sees beyond what seems possible practically. In the Catholic tradition, faith goes hand-in-hand with reason, and faith helps orient our reason and our thinking towards the good of all and sometimes gives us the vision and courage we need to act in bold ways and doing what may even seem hardly possible in our lives. We may find ourselves with new energy after a difficult illness. We may see new spaces for us to grow or take on new activities we didn’t expect but which bring new life to us. We become full of gratitude for the goodness in our lives and find perspective to deal with challenges. You may be inspired to start a new ministry in your parish because of a need you and others see that isn’t being met. All these are gifts of faith.
To draw upon the images from the Gospel of the expulsion of the demon and Jesus’ teaching about moving mountains, I especially think of so many as we emerge slowly from this time of pandemic who have only just started addressing the demons or the mountains of trauma, doubt, hurt, loss and anger that all of us have had to deal with these many months. Jesus’ message reminds us that faith doesn’t undo any of that pain but gives us new eyes to see how the respond to it and to undertake the spiritual process of allowing God the opportunity to heal it and renew us. Jesus never stops inviting us – like Yoda – to hold to our faith and trust that God is seeking to move us into a new moment in our lives.
When we are able to make that a daily habit – a daily way of thinking – we will be amazed when unexpected newness comes to us, but unlike Luke in that scene from Star Wars, we’ll be able to say in the joy of faith, with the psalm today:
“I love you, Lord, my strength!”