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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

27th Sunday Year C 2013

27th. Sunday Year (C)

(Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4.  2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14.  Luke 17:5-10)

Why did the Apostles say to Jesus: Increase our faith?
Matthew’ version of our Gospel story tells us how the Apostles had just failed to cure an epileptic boy brought to them, a failure that Jesus said was due to their lack of faith. Luke does not give us any such information about the Apostles’ failure, but introduces Jesus’ words directly by that request of the Apostles:
            Lord, increase our faith!
What led St. Luke to do this we do not know; but it would seem that his pastoral experience guided him to try to bring the understanding of faith into sharper focus, and in this he was successful because the Apostles’ request highlights a certain ignorance which was not only theirs’ surely but the ignorance of the majority of Christians concerning the true nature of the gift of faith:
            Lord, increase our faith (give us a bit more of it, please!)
Jesus' answer is clearly intended to help them better understand the supernatural nature of God’s great spiritual gift and also to appreciate it’s wondrous power with regard to what is merely natural and worldly; thereby showing them the folly of their questioning God’s generosity instead of recognizing their own ignorance and inadequacy:
If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
Notice that Jesus did not call their faith into question; He didn’t say, ‘If you had faith’, but, ‘If you have faith as a mustard seed’.  So often in the Christian life, it is not that God’s gifts are insufficient for our needs, but rather that we fail to truly appreciate the wonder of what has already been given us, as St. Paul himself insinuated in the second reading:
            Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you.
Let me now give you a short description of the mulberry tree (Barnes' notes) and you will have a clearer idea of the significance of Jesus' parable.
Look, now, at this tree: its ample girth, its wide-spread arms branching off from the parent trunk only a few feet from the ground.  Next, examine its enormous roots: as thick, as numerous, and as wide-spread into the deep soil below as the branches extend into the air above.  What power on earth can pluck up such a tree? Heaven's thunderbolt may strike it down, the wild tornado may tear it to fragments, but, surely, nothing short of miraculous power could pluck it up by the roots."
The apostles still had Jesus with them, as the centre of their minds' attention and hearts' affection, and perhaps for that reason, they were not, as yet, able to appreciate the power of that gift of faith which had made already made them into disciples of Jesus; because they had not yet committed themselves to that faith; their eyes and ears were supplying all they wanted, all they thought they needed. And so, Jesus now goes on to hint at a time to come when He will no longer be with them and at their side.  He pictures a time when He Himself will be "resting", and they will be required to continue working, apparently alone, but, in reality, working on His behalf and by His Spirit:
Which of you, having a servant ploughing or tending sheep, will say to him when he has come in from the field, 'Come at once and sit down to eat'?  But will he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink'?
Speaking in this way Jesus opens up a further aspect of the apostles' incomprehension :  God does not bestow His spiritual gifts on us for us to possess them as children cling to, and at times boast of, presents they have received.  He endows us with blessings in order that thereby we may live in ever closer communion with Himself, and be empowered to co-operate in the spread, and promote the understanding, of His Good News among all peoples and throughout all time. Jesus, in short, wanted to counter any possessiveness on the part of the Apostles, to protect them from that innate tendency to selfishness and pride that would shortly incite them to argue amongst themselves about which of them was the greatest.   Jesus wanted to ward off the perennial threat to all those who are specially gifted, by warning His apostles -- and their successors -- against the pride and arrogance so commonly seen rampant in the abuse of power.  He spoke only a few words because the apostles were not yet ready for more, but the words He chose covered all that needed to be said; and, being simply expressed, certain aspects of them could be readily understood by the apostles, while the more hidden depths would subsequently be revealed to Mother Church -- who treasures all such words of Jesus in her heart – through all the ages of her mission here on earth:
So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'
The selflessness which Jesus was teaching and praising there is something a worldly, proud, and unspiritual person cannot endure.   The prophet Habakkuk also spoke, as did Jesus, about the time for labour in this world, when rest is longed for but, though its promise be sure, its fulfilment has to be delayed:
Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it.  The vision is yet for an appointed time; at the end it will speak, and will not lie.  Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry.
The sinner, the lover of this world, the proud, cannot abide such delay I say, for, as you heard, ‘his soul is not upright in him’; he cannot be reconciled to waiting in trust, neither can he humble himself in the service of a cause where success is not in some way readily apparent or tangible.  Such selfless devotion is only for those whom God has specially blessed, as the prophet's words make abundantly clear:
The just shall live by his faith.
St. Paul told us how God the Father has blessed all who are in Christ Jesus:
Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  
We have been given, that is, two gifts in Jesus: the gift of faith to hold fast to ‘the pattern of sound words’ contained in his teaching and that of Mother Church, and that of love to seek and serve Jesus personally in our daily living of that teaching.  Now, with two such gifts, our call to selflessness does not mean a life of sheer endurance as we journey through a desert of aridity in the face of storms constantly exposing our weakness and provoking anxiety; rather is it a life which, being gradually emptied of self-love, is thereby made ever more capable of receiving the gifts of the Spirit, of being filled to overflowing with the peace, joy, and love which are to be found in Christ Jesus alone.
As Jesus told His disciples then and now, the gifts already given us are sufficient for all our needs:
If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, 'Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
Indeed, they are even more than sufficient for all our desires!  For faith is a treasure, and love of Jesus is not only the fruit, beauty, and glory of that treasure, but also the tool whereby we can come to appreciate what He has given us ever more and more:
Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
The Apostles had to learn -- as must we -- that a disciple of Jesus must work not  only outside, in the mission field of daily life in the world, but also on the inside, in the secret depths of his or her own mind and heart.  The one, true, Faith is not merely a form of words to be believed and remembered, it is a treasure to be appreciated and quarried by our mind and in our heart.  When worked on in that way the treasure which is our Faith yields up and bestows a power indeed, but not one for self-aggrandisement, as the early apostles childishly imagined; but one, on the contrary, that, revealing to us the beauty of God's truth and the wonder of His love, thereby enables and inspires us to become ever more selfless and wholly other, to the extent that, as St. Paul puts it:
It is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me. (Galatians 2:20)
Christ, by the power of His Spirit in us, leads, guides, encourages and empowers us to work ever more at and with our treasure trove of faith’s love and truth:
Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God.
We are not to repeat the failure of those in the time of the prophet Habakkuk who in the weakness of unredeemed humanity cried out:
Why do You make me see iniquity and cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; strife exists and contention arises, yet You do not save.
The time of rest, the time for rejoicing over the ultimate conquest of evil is not yet.  Jesus Himself is indeed in heavenly glory, but we, His disciples, have work still to do for Him on earth:
Prepare something for my supper, and gird yourself and serve me till I have eaten and drunk, and afterward you will eat and drink.
For that purpose we have been gifted with "the faith and love that is in Christ Jesus"; let us then aspire, with sure confidence and firm hope, to the fulfilment of His promise:
Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.  (Luke 12:37-38)
                                                    (2004; not given anywhere; modified 2013)