Sunday, January 18, 2004


"If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, oligopistoi?" (Matthew 6:30, NIV).

"He replied, 'Oligopistoi, why are you so afraid?' Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm" (Matthew 8:26, NIV).

"Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. 'Oligopiste,' he said, 'why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:31, NIV).

"Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked, 'Oligopistoi, why are you talking among yourselves about having no bread?'" (Matthew 16:8, NIV).

"If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, oligopistoi?" (Luke 12:28, NIV)

The word the King James Version translates as "O ye of little faith," the Greek language compacts into one small word. Barclay-Newman provides the definition, "of little faith." It is a favorite word for the author of Matthew. Six times the word appears in the New Testament--five times in the Gospel of Matthew, once in the Gospel of Luke. (The author of Matthew also uses a variant--oligopistian--in reference to Jesus' description that the disciples have little faith.)

It appears nowhere else, and always in the speech of Jesus. He uses it in reference of the crowds listening to him. He uses it in reference to his disciples. He uses it to address that most reckless and foolhardy disciple of all, Peter. The word always creeps up in the face of the most self-conscious crises--worrying about daily provision, the sudden tempest on the Galilean Sea, Peter's failed attempt to walk on water, a lack of bread.

In Spanish, there is a word pobrecito, or poor little one, or poor little baby. It is a term of affection, a term of endearment. I have been called it on more than one occasion when I was whining more than I should. There isn't a hint of derision or condescension in it. It is a loving manner in which a parent addresses a fumbling child, or a loved one expresses dramatically exagerrated pity.

This is what I hear in oligopistos. This is how I imagine the Father calls me.

When I see Jesus using this word in this Matthew, I don't see him making a mockery of his disciples. I don't see him hand on his hips, finger-shaking, scolding the bad boys. I don't see him bringing a hammer-stroke of judgment, nor bringing out the dunce caps of humiliation. I see more a gesture of deep affection: "Oh pobrecitos, you're making a mountain out of a mole hill. It's going to be okay. Let me show you how."

I have little faith. Maybe only just a crumb. That's no negative confession. It's an honest self-assessment. I have every reason not to believe as I do to believe. But I am haunted by this inarticulate yearning, like a fading but never extinguishable ember, to hope still. Jesus said only a little faith could move a mountain.

"Oligopiste, you're getting a little out of hand. Slow down there, tiger. Stop worrying. I've got things under control. Everything. Let me show you." He tussles my hair.

Lord, increase my faith.

posted by Peter at 11:20 AM
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