27th Ordinary Sunday (Year C)
First Reading: Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4 Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14 Gospel Reading: Luke 17:5-10
“LORD, I BELIEVE; HELP MY UNBELIEF; INCREASE MY FAITH!”
Was it Archimedes, the ancient Greek scientist, who said, “Give me a lever, long enough, and a place to put it on, and I will move the world?” What a claim! Surprising of course.
Theoretically, the claim of Archimedes is perfectly sound. But evidently, in the physical world, it may seem an impossibility. However, in the spiritual realm, it is definitely possible. For, there IS such a lever, and it is called 'FAITH'; there is a place to put it on, and it is called 'GOD'; and there is a power that can swing that lever, and it is called 'MAN'.
Another claim we also find in the Gospel Reading of today from St. Luke: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.” Is it really true? Can it really happen? ...........?
Today is the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time; and the Scripture Readings focus on the virtue of faith. Faith is a cardinal virtue and is the most basic of all. It is that virtue which makes us hold on to God's hand. It is about belief, and it is about trust and loyalty. Do we really have faith in God? Today we are called to be faithful servants of God.
“WHERE IS GOD IN ALL THIS?”:
Habakkuk is one of the lesser known prophets. From indications in his short, three-chapter book, we glean that he ministered in the years immediately before the fall of the Southern Kingdom of Judah when Babylon was at the apex of it’s imperial powers. He was witnessing the overwhelming destructive power of that pagan empire.
In the First Reading of today we see Habakkuk is in a situation of distress and he cries out to the Lord in his distress. He laments the mistreatment of the chosen people by the invaders. His view is that evil and destruction are without sense, without justifiable reason. Even God's faithful ones have been trampled on by their enemies. He pleads with God for an explanation. Why doesn't God help them? He perceives that his outcry to God remains unheeded. God then speaks to the prophet, telling him to write down a vision that reveals how God will intervene in the future. The violent ones will, by their sinfulness, bring about their own defeat. The just ones, by their fidelity to God, will enjoy lasting happiness.
Sometimes we may have the same feelings as the prophet in today’s First Reading. Why is there so much injustice and tyranny and oppression everywhere? Why so much outrage and violence? Often, in these situations, people are reduced to a sense of helplessness and hopelessness. One might begin to ask, 'Where is God in all this?' Why does he not protect his children, especially the most defenseless? And the answer is, if we are a just person and act justly to others with integrity, our faith will be strengthened as a result of our living, and even though the rewards are delayed, we can be sure they will come.
“THE FAITHFUL SERVANTS OF GOD”:
In today's Gospel Reading from St. Luke, we hear Jesus teach about faith and service to God. The context is a continuing dialogue between Jesus and his followers about what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. The two sayings of Jesus in today's gospel make us wonder about the other side of the story. When the apostles ask, "Lord, increase our faith," are they secretly quite satisfied with their record of faithfulness? Jesus tells them that if they really have faith they can tell a tree what to do, and it will do it! The story about the faithful servant tells us that Jesus' disciples should be grateful to God. When we do God's will, we should not expect to receive a gold medal. We have, after all, done no more than "what we were obliged to do."
a) “Lord, increase our faith!”
Certainly being a disciple of Jesus requires faith, and the apostles were discovering that. They must have been impressed by the assurance that Jesus had, by the way he spoke of God as Father with a conviction and an intimacy that they had not met before. And understandably they wanted to have the same conviction and intimacy; they wanted to see things the way Jesus did and share his outlook. It is often said that 'faith is caught, not taught,' and they must certainly have caught it from his assurance and conviction. But they realized that their faith was still weak and fumbling. They had a long way to go before they could know the Father as he did, know His will and purposes. And so they said, “Lord, increase our faith!”
Rather disconcertingly, Jesus does not answer their question, at least not directly. Instead, he seems to give a mild reproach, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed...you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.'” It's not the 'quantity' of faith, but the 'kind' of faith, that matters. Even a tiny speck of a faith that is sincere and wholehearted, that totally trusts God, can achieve amazing and seemingly impossible things.
But why does he give this bizarre example of the mulberry tree, which has an extensive root system, and it would be difficult to uproot, let alone plant in deep water? And what would be the point anyway? To impress people by showing miraculous powers? So it is not a saying which should be taken quite literally. Instead it is surely one of Jesus' typically Hebraic exaggerations to emphasize his point. He is saying that by faith you can do the difficult, the unexpected, the unlikely if this chimes in with God's purposes. With his metaphor of the mustard seed, a very tiny seed, Jesus tells them that even with a small amount of faith, God will hear them and answer their needs, even if it was something that needed a miracle. But Jesus also tells them that their faith at this point is very weak. He doesn’t mean this as a put down. Jesus explains that the Apostles do have faith and that with the amount of faith they already have, they can do impossible things.
Perhaps our faith may be smaller than the already small mustard seed; i.e. it is not big enough to move mountains. But it should be big enough to enable us to reach out to God's hand so that He will help us walk up the mountains of problems confronting us. To have faith is to acknowledge our inadequacies as we place ourselves entirely in God's hands.
b) “What we were obliged to do”:
The next part of the Gospel Reading of today presents 'the parable of the dutiful servant,' who is expected to go about his ordinary tasks in a responsible, devoted and self-giving way. Luke often uses the roles of the master and the servant or slave to talk about discipleship, faith and faithfulness. Here the point is that you can't expect a reward if all you are doing is your duty. The bottom line is that obedience is not a means to some reward. It is simply what being an apostle and a disciple is about. Christ, in the Gospel, reminds his followers that they are 'the faithful servants of God' and that their humble submission is necessary to grow in faith. Therefore, the quality of our relationship with God must accord with what the Gospel says at the end, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.”
“LOYALTY TO THE GOSPEL”:
In the Second Reading of today St Paul exhorts Timothy to remain firm in his vocation, to preach the truth without being inhibited by human respect. To preach the Christian faith at a time of terrible persecution requires great courage. 'Loyalty to the gospel' always involves a certain amount of hardship for any disciple. Anyone who teaches or preaches the faith must also be true to the tradition handed down by Jesus through the apostles. St. Paul encourages Timothy to place his faith in the Holy Spirit, which will enable him to be a courageous witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. While it is true that we are merely servants, the Holy Spirit can do wonders with those who place their faith and trust in him.
The 2nd Timothy text is a powerful reminder of what Gospel faith is and what it is not. It is not passive, disengaged, groveling and diminishing. It is, rather, the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit, the Spirit of power, love and self-control. Power here connotes strength to engage and to do something; love is that profound compassion which is larger than all other emotions; and self-control is that prudent self-discipline which allows one the best of responsible freedom and integrity; in a word, wisdom.
Faith is not faith if kept in reserve for emergencies. Faith is lived daily and shapes the way we think and behave. It is about receptivity to God's presence in our daily lives and it is seen in our faithful behavior. Someone has said, 'Charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.'
It is easy to say that we have faith in Jesus when everything is going fine. But when there are big problems, crises, calamities, well.... But Jesus wants us to have faith in him, even and especially in moments of crisis so that we can triumph over them. Today’s message is an invitation to many of us who have found life to be unbearable because God seemed to have abandoned us or God seemed to be silent. Faith is trust, not certainty. Our commitment to God’s sovereign Will will enable Him to forge for us a solution beyond our expectation.
In conclusion, sometimes people say that, in response to the tragedy they have encountered, they have lost faith, as if they have lost their house keys or their wallets. The truth is, we can never lose our faith. We may be struggling to allow faith to shape our lives according to God’s sovereign Will. In the light of the apostles asking the Lord to increase their faith, we ask that He will grant us the grace of insight on how to allow our lives to be more and more shaped by our trust in Him. Let us then today humbly pray to God and say, “LORD, I BELIEVE; HELP MY UNBELIEF; INCREASE MY FAITH!” And this is the Good News of today.