Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4, 2 Timothy 1:6-8,13-14, Lk. 17:5-10
On this 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, we are invited to reflect on one of the most important Christian and theological virtues – Faith. It is the foundation of our Christian life. Faith gives us a new vision and version of life. Without faith, we remain helpless and slaves to despair and hopelessness. Faith liberates us and helps us to see the power and love of God at work in our lives.
The Apostles as Jesus’ closest companions asked the question: how can we increase our faith? It is not always easy in our culture to have faith in something, in fact to have faith in anything. Faith, we say, is a gift. When the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith, they are asking for something that most humans have asked for in their lifetime. We want to believe in something. We need to believe in something. But doubts and fears assail our minds.
The prophet Habakkuk was asking the same question. He had faith – he was addressing God, but he did not think God was listening. How long did he have to wait to see violence, destruction and misery before he lost his faith in God and was no longer loyal to the one God. How many times can we be depressed and alone and unanswered before we give up? The answer to Habakkuk was that if you are a person who acts justly with integrity, your faith will be strengthened, and even though the rewards are delayed, you can be sure they will come. In this case, faith seems to be increased by living morally and honestly which is being loyal to God’s commands. I find this interesting because we, in our culture, feel that we live morally and truthfully because we have Christian faith. But here God puts the cart before the horse and says that by living morally and truthfully, you will increase your faith. In the words “the just shall live by his faithfulness”, God simply encourages us to remain faithful through good deeds and actions.
The second reading – Paul’s Letter to Timothy – is a powerful reminder of what Gospel faith is and is not. It is not passive, disengaged, groveling and diminishing. Paul tells Timothy that his faith will be increased by his ordination, the imposition of Paul’s hands on him, in which the spirit increases the gifts we have of power, love and self-control. It is, rather, the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit. 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.
When the Apostles asks Jesus how they can be more faithful, what they are asking in the context of what has just gone before is how they can be more loyal to Christ, how they can strengthen their belief and trust in Christ and all that Christ demands. Jesus has made it very clear to his close followers that he demands loyalty from them. As we have seen, he demanded that even they put Jesus ahead of their families. Was their question then one of asking for help in making that commitment?
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 does not mean this as a put-down. He explains that they do have faith and that with the amount of faith they already have, they can do impossible things.
Then Jesus tells a short parable about a man who has only one servant, and much is expected of that servant both inside and outside the house. A servant is hired and expected to do what an employer asks. Some tasks will be more difficult and time-consuming than others. We should not expect the employer to do the servant’s task of making supper and having the servant sit down to eat with him. It does not work that way. Do we give special favours to a person who is just doing his or her job adequately? The end of the parable simply means that a good servant is expected to just do his or her job. This is similar to the Habakkuk reading in that by doing what you are supposed to do, your faith will increase. The Twelve, to increase their faith, have to do the work Jesus has taught them and expects them to continue doing. Faith is a gift! We do not get it by working harder for it.
So, what can this mean for us this week? No doubt we all struggle with our faith at some time or another. It is our gift and we need to accept and come to grips with it. Faith is not faith if kept in reserve for emergencies. Faith must be constantly questioned and called into action. It must be lived out through steadfastness and perseverance. It must be demonstrated through actions because: “…faith without action is dead” (James: 2: 26). 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 to plan. But when there are problems, crises, calamities it is another story. However, 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 expectations.
Finally, sometimes in response to a happening experienced in life we hear people say 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 in fact be struggling to allow faith to shape our lives according to the Will of God. 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!”.
Sr. Máireád Morrissey OP