Gospel: Luke 17:5-10
Have you ever felt frustrated by the lack of your own faith? Have you ever felt you didn't trust God enough in a certain area of life? Explain.
Faith is a quality we like to treat as a quantity. Faith is spiritual "stuff." We feel like we're failing if we don't have enough. We may even fall into the temptation to compare our faith with others. And, of course, "faith" is measured in the behavior of "spiritual" people. Do we pray enough? Praise God enough? Act good enough? Serve others enough?
The apostles faced the same temptation. They felt inadequate, compared to Jesus. His ministry was the measuring stick for others. They wanted to do what Jesus did. So, they asked the Master for the power of faith. The answer they received must have surprised them.
5 The apostles told Jesus, "Give us faith!"
6 "If you had faith even the size of a really small mustard seed," Jesus replied, "you could tell this mulberry tree, 'Jump out of the ground and plant yourself in the sea' and the tree would obey you."
7 If you had a servant who worked in the field or with the flock, would you invite him to join you for dinner when he came home at night? 8 Wouldn't you really tell him to prepare and serve you dinner first, then clean up after you before he ate? 9 Do you thank the servant for doing what he has been told to do?
10 So, you are to be like a servant. When you everything God told you to do, just say, 'We are useless servants. We are only doing what we were supposed to do.'"
Jesus answered the request of more faith with a parable image and a set of rhetorical questions. Unlike other parable images in Luke, Jesus was straight forward. Command and it will happen. Serve God and others in the way expected. Use faith for others, not for self-glory.
5 The apostle said to the Lord, "Add faith to us!" 6 The Lord said, "If you had faith like a grain of mustard, you could say to [this] mulberry tree, 'Pull up (your) roots and plant (yourself) in the sea,' and it would (immediately) obey you."
7 (Is there) anyone of you who, having a slave plowing or shepherding (and) having returned from the field, will say to him, 'Come along side quickly and recline (for dinner)'? 8 But, will he not say to him, 'Prepare what I will eat; dress yourself and serve me until I might eat and drink (my fill); after this, you will eat and drink'? 9 Does he (give) thanks to the slave because he performed the (duties) having been (given to him). 10 So you also (do the same). Whenever you perform all (the duties given) to you, say, 'We are useless slaves! We have done only what we ought to do.'"
17:5 "Add faith to us!" This phrase as two possible translations: 1) increase the strength of faith or 2) add faith to the gifts the Lord gave them. As a charismatic preacher and faith healer, Jesus possessed many gifts of the Spirit. Jesus gave these gifts to his followers, including faith. Since the followers already had trust in Jesus (after all, they lived with him), the followers wanted a new gift. But, what gift? One possible answer was an increase in self-confidence to use the other gifts of the Spirit. In other words, the followers wanted the power to minister like Jesus did.
17:6 "mulberry tree" The type of tree is uncertain.
17:7 "Come along side quickly and recline" is literally "having come along side quickly, recline (for dinner)." The participle in the clause has the force of a command. Reclining for eating was a Greek custom adopted by most Jews at the time.
17:8 "dress yourself and serve me" is literally, "having dressed (yourself), serve me" Like 17:7, the force of participle is a command.
17:9-10 "having been (given to him)" is literally "having been commanded (of him)."
Like many other times in Luke's gospel, Jesus spoke in absurd to make his point. Faith and service are intertwined. If you want a stronger faith, get involved!
In last week's gospel, Jesus chided the Pharisees for their love of money (see Luke 16:14). Leading up to this week's passage, Jesus warned his followers not to act like the Pharisees, the teachers of the Law, who acted hypocritically and without compassion. Jesus' disciples should teach by word and example; forgiveness should be given easily. (See Luke 17:1-4). But how can one be tolerant with others on the one hand, and live one's own life as a shining example for others? In response to such a challenge, the disciples were right when they said, "Increase our faith!" [17:5] For only faith can empower a follower to live with compassion and with strong character.
Like the old Nike ad, Jesus responded: "Just do it!" [17:6] But "doing faith" does not mean banishing doubt and seeking certainty through intellectual self will and the force of a logical conclusion. "Doing faith" means serving others. To illustrate the point, Jesus told the parable of the master waiting table for the servant. Of course, this was an absurd set-up, for no master would eat after a servant would. Jesus told his disciples to act like humble servants, who do not seek self-glorification in ministry (like many of the Pharisees). Humble servant excuse themselves from the limelight by insisting they were "only doing what they were told to do." [17:7-10]
Faith is more than adherence to a list of dogmas. It is trust in the Lord. Faith is not something we have (like a possession), but something we do. As such, faith requires an openness to God's will and the effort to carry it out. And, living God's will leads a life of service to others.
Catechism Theme: Faith
162 Faith is an entirely free gift that God makes to man. We can lose this priceless gift, as St. Paul indicated to St. Timothy: "Wage the good warfare, holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting conscience, certain persons have made shipwreck of their faith." To live, grow, and persevere in faith until the end we must nourish it with the word of God; we must beg the Lord to increase our faith; it must be "working through charity" abounding in hope, and rooted in the faith of the Church.
Adapting an old adage: "Faith is God's gift to you; what you do with it is your gift to God." All things, even the seeds of faith, those moments that invite us to a relationship with God, are freely given. The question remains, how do we respond to God's call?
Do we ignore the calling? We do so only at our own peril, for we must shut out all the voices that guide us: conscience and experience, cultural forces of good and advice of the wise. If we ignore the call through its many channels, we harden our hearts and dull our minds. In the end, we only become self-centered, unable to trust in anyone.
Do we listen and act? Yes! The paragraph lists four ways to affirm God's call. We can listen through study of the Scriptures and prayer (begging God to increase our faith). We act on it through a loving service that gives hope and a dedication to the Church. Notice that the first three means (Bible study, prayer, and loving service) are oriented toward us as individuals, but the last one involves us with other Catholics.
Like the principal of synergy (the sum is greater than the parts), the Church's faith is much greater and wiser than our own individual relationships with God. We can depend upon its guidance, based upon 2000 years of experience. But, there is something even greater than human synergy and experience at work; God acts through the faith of the Church. Through our collective faith as a Church, God gives us the risen Christ in Eucharist, he forgives us in Reconciliation, he heals and comforts us in the Anointing of the Sick, he blesses our marriages, he dedicates men to serve us in Holy Orders. Faith becomes an instrument through which God acts and gathers us closer to him.
Like followers of old, we ask the Lord to increase our faith. And the Lord gives us the tools to increase it: God's Word in the Scriptures, constant invitations to prayer, opportunities to serve others in love, and the faith of the Church. Let us use them.
How have you used the tools of faith to grow closer to the Lord?
"Lord, give us more faith!" we cry out. Many times this is an appropriate prayer, for we have slipped in our exercise of faith. But many times, we might be tempted to pray for spiritual gifts so we can brag. Faith sharing stops being witness and starts being self-glorification.
Pray for faith. But, more important, pray for the opportunities to use faith. For the good of others. And the glory of God. After all, faith is the divine gift of God's relationship with us. Not a stick to measure that relationship.
Reflect on how you exercised your faith this week. Plan one way to grow (reading Scripture, praying, helping others, being involved in the Church). And, just do it.