27th. Sunday, Year C
Faith is the centre of attention this Sunday, People of God, for God wills to save us from our sins by making us His children and heirs to an eternal blessedness in Jesus, His beloved, only-begotten, Son, and earthly manifestation of His divine glory. He wills to prepare us for such a destiny by enabling us to live our earthly lives in mutual love, service, and understanding, despite our native sinfulness, over and above all earthly obstacles and barriers of race, colour or class, poverty or prosperity. He wills us to be strong and free, neither fearing for the future nor despairing over what is present or past, but with joy and firm purpose hoping all things of His goodness and mercy. He wills us to be holy for His glory and so transform the world, even though we can only do it ultimately by sharing in the Passion and Death of Jesus and praying God our Father for a share in the glory of Jesus’ Resurrection.
Such is the project set before us and the path we are called to tread as disciples of Jesus and children of God; and without faith we could not take even one step forward, let alone persevere till the end of life’s journey. Consequently, let us too cry out with the Apostles:
Lord, increase our faith!
Having heard this cry, with its implicit acknowledgement of our native weakness and inadequacy, the Lord’s answer is first of all encouragement, and then instruction. He gives us encouragement by insisting that we should never be anxious about the quantity of our faith, because quality alone matters: if you have faith, He says, you can do anything, for even the smallest grain of true faith can do things apparently impossible. Live your Catholic faith, which is a shoot of that Faith —one and true – which has been sheltered and cherished for two thousand years in the bosom of Mother Church for love of Jesus and by the power of His Spirit, being passed on and handed down over the ages, before ultimately being given -- with divine intention -- to you personally. Live it, and, in your turn, cherish it, for the goodness of that divine intention; and never insult God the Giver by worrying about the size of His gift, because that gift carries along with itself divine life which can so grow and flower -- even in you – as to reflect something ever-new of the goodness and power of Jesus for the blessing of mankind in our world today. Yes, indeed, live your faith -- live the Faith in you -- by letting it direct and guide the course of your life; do not allow yourself to be continually checking-up on God by looking down to see where your every footstep might be treading; but, always and in full trust, walk, stride, or even run, looking ever forward and upward toward the goal of your aspirations in and for Christ by the power of His Spirit.
The mustard seed of which Jesus spoke, though being proverbially small as St. Mark tells us:
A mustard seed, when it is sown on the ground, is smaller than all the seeds on earth (4:31);
is remarkably powerful far beyond its measure. As for the mulberry tree -- the most securely rooted of all Palestinian trees -- it was much admired for its ability to survive, unshakeable and sure, through all storms.
The Faith, Jesus says, truly lived and loved in your faith, can overcome the most intractable difficulties, were they even such as to bear comparison with the uprooting and transplanting of a mulberry tree:
If you have 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;
because, it is not you who would do such uprooting and planting, but God Himself (‘it would obey you’), if you have faith.
Now, if and when some such blessing from God happens in our life, we should always remember the spiritual adage, ‘humility preserves what faith and love win’; an adage based on the teaching Our blessed Lord gives immediately -- in our Gospel reading -- to His disciples, telling them, ‘if faith works wonders in your life, bringing blessings upon your head, deep joy and peace into your heart, do not begin to pride yourselves thereon, thinking that such fruits were given because you had somehow deserved or merited them; no, hear this parable I have for you’:
Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table?
In the Greek and Roman world of that time a slave expected neither praise, preference, nor pay, after having done his work; indeed, when had he finished his work? Here Jesus tells of one such slave -- arriving back at his master’s house after a hard day’s work in the fields -- being immediately assigned yet another task:
Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I have finished’.
Slaves in the ancient world would not have been surprised at such treatment, because they belonged to a master or mistress who was under no obligation to give them other than food and shelter. Of course, today society accepts that slavery is wrong; because no one can ever own another human being since we are all equal in dignity, worth and acceptance, before God. But Our Lord was taking a picture from current life in His days on earth which mirrored forth the basic truth of our relationship with God: God is our Creator and all that we do belongs to Him since all we are, have, and can do, is from Him and ultimately for His good purposes.
And so, the slave returning from the fields and finding another job waiting for him is meant to remind us that there is no limit to God’s claims on us; we can never rightly turn round to Him and say, ‘I’ve done my whack, get somebody else.’ No, we can never rightly refuse His calls, because He is love, creative and all-powerful, doing all things out of love in order to share His love and blessedness with all who will obey Him. God is never in our debt; while it is our supreme privilege and ultimate fulfilment to be able to respond to all His calls with loving obedience and joyful gratitude.
Jesus Himself exemplified His own teaching: making Himself like a servant at the Last Supper when He washed His disciples’ feet, and giving Himself up for us in obedience to His Father’s will, even though that will (oh! how hard it was to embrace!) was that He should suffer and die on the Cross. And even when He comes again in glory, He will rejoice to serve us:
Blessed are those servants whom the Master finds awake when He comes; truly I say to you, He will gird Himself and have them sit at table, and He will come and serve them. (Luke 12:37s.)
However, until He comes in glory we have to work hard and travel far; and so that we can persevere, we have God’s gift of faith, to be embraced with sincere love and protected by true humility. And such love and humility, given whole-heartedly, will lead us gradually to appreciate and understand something of the splendour and majesty of God’s gift, as happened to St. Paul most strikingly:
(I pray) that the eyes of your understanding may be enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. (Ephesians 1:18-21)
That is the full understanding of the wondrous power and final purpose of Faith, to be embraced by us, and working in and through us; it is that power of God which raised Jesus from the dead unto the right hand of the Father in glory, and it can work in us too, enabling each of us to fulfil our personal vocation and ultimately be raised with and in Jesus to take our seat at the marriage feast of the Lamb, in the presence of ‘Our Father in heaven’.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the prophet Habakkuk, in our first reading, ‘signed off’ with one of the most famous statements in the whole Bible:
The just one, because of his faith, shall live.
And in our second reading we heard St. Paul call on Timothy:
Beloved (son), I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have … in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.
Accordingly, let us join with the Apostles who, in our Gospel reading, cried out:
Lord, increase our faith!
For our appreciation of faith has been sharpened much, increasing in both clarity and depth, through words such as those to be found in the Letter to the Hebrews (10:38) and St. Paul’s doctrinal letter of introduction to the Romans (11:20):
Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.
Because of unbelief they were broken off; and you stand by faith.
However, perhaps the greatest incitement for us to seek constant growth in faith is to be found in those other words of St. Paul, taken once again from his letter to the Romans (1:17):
In it (the Gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith’.
The righteousness of God, His truth, goodness, mercy and fidelity is revealed to us through, in and by, the Faith of Mother Church; for faith (yours and mine) to love, embrace, live by, die in, and, as many Catholics and Christians are sadly experiencing throughout the world today, die for.
How St. Paul was able, at times, to make dogma light up and blaze with devotion! May he do for us this day, what he did so successfully for Timothy!