Year C: Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
Saying of Faith.
Luke 17: 5-10
And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord replied, “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. “Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, “Come here immediately and take your place at table”? 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 am finished”? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.”
- In what areas of your life are you most needing an “increase of faith”? Have you asked God for this?
- Where have you experienced a small act of faith having extreme consequences? Tell the story.
- Do you feel resistant to the idea of being God’s servant, or in God being your servant? Why or why not?
- In what ways or areas do you find yourself looking for rewards for your servanthood?
Luke 17: 5-10
This Gospel may be better understood when viewed within its larger literary context. In Luke 17:1-10, the evangelist gathered four sets of sayings and a parable, all loosely linked together under the umbrella of discipleship. The first two sets of sayings dealt with giving scandal to others (v. 1-2) and the necessity of mutual correction and the constant willingness to forgive (v. 3-4). Upon hearing that these stringent demands were the very minimum expected of them, the disciples said to Jesus, “Increase our faith” (v. 5). It is at this point in the interchange that today’s Gospel begins.
Jesus’ response to his apostles is typically Semitic. Using vivid and extreme language, Jesus explained that even the minutest amount of faith can have amazing consequences. The black mulberry tree had quite an extensive root system, and the effort needed to uproot such a tree could be described as herculean. Moreover, the idea of transplanting a tree into the sea merely added to the difficulty. Nevertheless, through faith in God, even the seemingly impossible becomes possible.
Understood in his literary context, the Lucan Jesus was teaching his apostles that through faith, they could learn to avoid scandal. Similarly, through faith, they could cultivate the willingness to help others see the error of their ways and accept correction for their own sins when others point them out. By faith, they could also learn to forgive fully, freely and without limit.
In the parable that continued their formation, the featured servant was actually doing double duty. He had worked all day as a field servant and then returned home to take up extra duties as a domestic servant. Even with that heavy load, the servant was doing no more than what was expected of him. Therefore, he should not expect a reward or even an expression of gratitude. No doubt Jesus’ disciples understood the implications of Jesus’ parable. Even if their words and works never posed a scandal for others … even if they always forgave others, they were doing no more than their duty as his disciples. In fulfilling those minimum requirements, they were not guaranteed salvation. No amount of service, however well performed, could merit the gift that is God’s prerogative alone to give. Therefore, even perfect human actions should not give rise to pride or boasting or back-patting. Rather, true disciples humbly admit that they are “unprofitable” servants (some texts read “useless”).
A difficult word, “useless,” or achreios in Greek, implied that nothing was gained by those to whom nothing was owed. No human being, no matter how much they do, can make a claim on God, as in: “You owe me because I have done such-and-such.” Even perfect observance of the law does not merit salvation or satisfy the requirements of authentic discipleship. For those who kept a mental ledger of their good deeds, Jesus’ words must have been deflating. Nevertheless, while affirming the insufficiency of human words, this Gospel emphasizes the necessity of faith. By means of this great gift of God, we are able to appropriate this great gift of salvation.
Keep on stirring and fanning the flame.
Increase Our Faith
Deacon Ross Beaudoin
While I was sitting and writing in a local family-owned coffee shop, a young woman came up to me and said I looked familiar. She asked me where I went to church. I told her I am a member of St. James Parish — in Kansas City, 15 miles away from the coffee shop where we were. I proudly showed her a wallet-size picture of the interior of the church. That picture showed our display of the two-dozen flags from the home countries of St. James’ parishioners.
I asked the young woman where she went to church. She said she didn’t attend anymore. She was studying Buddhist teachings. She noticed that I had papers and a small Bible beside my laptop.
“What is your name?” she asked. I gave her my first name. I asked her name and the name of her friend sitting at a laptop in the corner of the room.
“Would you mind giving me the address of your church?” I wrote it down, and she asked me to add my name, which I did. As I handed her the slip of paper, she asked what time we gather on Sunday. I added that to the note.
“Lord, increase my faith.”
I have been in this coffee shop innumerable times. Every now and then, I run into someone I know. It is a rare occasion when a stranger starts a conversation. There is meaning in this kind of encounter.
“Increase my faith.”
“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.”
After I wrote my note, I thought to myself that if I had a mustard seed of faith, I could say to this woman, “Join us on Sunday,” and she would.
As she left the coffee shop, she said, “Nice to meet you.” I responded, “Nice to meet you, too. Maybe I’ll see you on Sunday.” She and her friend smiled.
“Lord, increase my faith.”
That mustard seed of faith moved me to make the invitation. A mustard seed of grace had moved this woman to inquire of me about my church. Who knows where this will go? For my part, I firmly believe that once she experiences the personal warmth and spirit of faith at our parish, she will benefit from it … whether or not she hears a call to go further.
The disciples asked Jesus for an increase of faith in response to many serious challenges he had given them. After Jesus told them of the value of a solid (though initially small) faith, he went further. Jesus illustrated for the disciples that their role was to serve the reign of God that he was bringing forth. As he was the servant of God in inaugurating the reign of God here, so also they were to be servants of the reign of God. The faith that he gives them is to build them up for their task.
“Lord, increase my faith.”
In all the relationships of our lives, we are servants of the coming of the reign of God. Through Jesus’ gift of faith, we come to see fully that each and every person is called to the reign of God. Through that gift of faith, we are nourished in our relationship with Jesus Christ so that in our other relationships — with family, friends, acquaintances and those we meet at the coffee house or on the bus or at grocery store – we might invite them into the reign of God. “Lord, increase our faith.”