October 6, 2013
A honeybee is not very big. As you walk around in the summer, you have to look closely to see the bee moving quickly from one flower to another. If a particular bee were to be suddenly eaten by a bird-of-prey, or washed away in a rush of water, the loss of that bee would not seem that significant. A single bee is not that important. But bees together have a tremendous influence on our life. They are the glue that binds together our agricultural system. One out of every three bites of food that we eat comes to us through the pollination of fruits and vegetables by honeybees. A bee on a single trip from the hive can visit over a hundred different blooms. To create one pound of honey, the colony of bees has to fly fifty-five thousand miles and visit over two million flowers.
As an example from nature, the honeybee demonstrates how a very small creature can have a tremendous result. Jesus never mentions honeybees in the gospels. But there are several times when he mentions the mustard seed. The mustard seed seems to be what Jesus points to in nature to show how small things can have immense effects. He does so in today’s gospel. He does so in the context of faith.
The apostles say to him, “Increase our faith.” They are speaking for us. They are speaking for us in all the times when we feel that our faith is insufficient, when our faith is too small. Perhaps we’ve lost someone we loved deeply and we question, “Will I really see that person again in heaven?” Perhaps we have lost our job, or our marriage, or our health and we ask, ”Does God really care? Is it even worth my time to ask for help?” Perhaps we look around us and see how much violence and greed and hatred exists, and we say, “How can I believe that God is in charge or that there is any reason to hope for a more just or a more peaceful world?” We know what the scriptures say and we know the promises that God has made to us. But there are times when those promises seem too good to be true. Like the disciples, we say, “Increase our faith,” because our faith is too small.
Now Jesus says in the gospel today that small faith is sufficient. He says that if we have faith the size of mustard seed, however little that seed may be, it still can have great results. But Jesus’ words seem naïve. How can mustard-seed-sized faith be enough? We do not feet that it is enough. That is why we feel we need more faith. How can our small faith be sufficient?
Here is where the honeybee might help. Honeybees do not have power as individuals. But they are a part of a hive, and those hives together are the glue of our agricultural system. So too, when we look at ourselves as isolated creatures, our faith is small, very small. But Jesus tells us is that when we feel the smallness of our faith, then it is time that we draw upon the faith of others. When we become discouraged about the world around us, it is time to look at the people in our life who we love and who can give us energy and hope. If we lose our job or our health, it is not time to go it alone. It is time to draw upon the strength of the people who respect and support us. When we doubt whether there really is a heaven, it is time that we turn to the people around us whose faith is stronger than ours and draw on their strength.
Our faith might be the size of a mustard seed but we are not an isolated plant. We are a Church, a part of a community of believers. As a community of believers, we need to draw upon one another for faith and hope. That is why the honeybee is a useful image. Alone, our faith is much too small. But it is still sufficient. It still has power, because we do not fly alone.