The readings of this Sunday speak about faith. In the first reading Habakkuk despite his complaints wait with trust the day God will fulfil his promise. In the second reading Paul writes to Timothy, encouraging him to keep the faith he has received. And in the Gospel the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. How do these readings nourish us?
- Habakkuk 1: 2–3; 2: 2–4
- 2 Timothy 1: 6–8, 13–14
- Luke 17: 5–10
Lord, give me to act with the little grain of faith for a world more human
Why increase of faith?
“Lord, increase our faith.” Why such request? Let’s see what went before in the Gospel.
Jesus has been teaching the disciples about the values of the Kingdom and its demands: to be forgiving, to be ready to renounce oneself, being charitable to those who suffer…. We know Jesus has been passing his message at times through parables that can be quite disconcerting. Before such demands, probably, the disciples wonder if they can make it. So, they cry for help -increase our faith.
In response Jesus tells them: “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” (Luke 17:6). Is it a reproach? Certainly Jesus does not increase their faith. He rather wants them to be aware of what they already have, certainly bigger than the mustard seed. With that, they can do wonders. He only recommends them to have an attitude of a useless servant. What could that mean?
Worthless slave, really?
Does it mean that the disciples should consider themselves as good for nothing? Jesus calls his disciples to have an attitude of trust and total surrender to God. Their discipleship does not consist in the success, the grandeur, or human approval of what they do. They should rather content themselves with the fact of having done their part. The fruit of their action does not depend on them. It’s God who is master. Hence no need for an increase in faith for extraordinary results.
That may not be easy today. We are used to measuring ourselves in terms of success, the praise we receive, how much we produce… But works of faith are not measured by such standard. What counts is the commitment we put in our little action, trusting that God himself will make something out of that. Our concern should not be: what’s the fruit of what I do? Who notices my efforts? We need to learn to be useless servants.
Faith that reproaches God
The prophet Habakkuk experiences also this feeling of powerlessness. What’s happening in the first reading?
Jerusalem is on the verge of falling into the hands of Chaldeans. There’s bloodshed in the city, violence, looting. Able people will be carried in exile as prisoners and Jerusalem will be destroyed to zero -the fruit of any war. This is what Israel is suffering. Isn’t there a way of saving the situation? Of course yes.
Habakkuk prays. But his prayer seems not to be leading anywhere. Jerusalem will fall, anyway! It’s like the people have hit a rock. God seems to be absent, perhaps gone on holiday to some distant country. And the prophet does not take it lightly. He confronts God without mincing his words: For how long am I going to call for help without you listening? For how long will violence continue and you remain indifferent?
God asks Habakkuk to wait. He will certainly act but in own his time. The people should not waver in hope for the “The righteous will live by faith.”
Indeed, the cry of Habakkuk sounds like ours. Wars, terrorism, violence of all forms, massacres, natural disasters, loss of beloved ones, the pain of discovering the cancer that eating the life of our beloved or ourselves, break of relationship, loss of job; in all such situations only one word lingers on our lips: why, why, but why God? And probably we have no response yet. We are angry with God to the point of, for some, even throwing in the towel.
We may equally have such temptation. However Habakkuk encourages us, “the righteous will live by faith.” The disciples do not abandon the race, they ask for help in order to carry on.
Lord increase my faith! For what?
If we have our faith increased, what shall we do with it?
Firstly, we don’t speak of increasing the faith in terms of size. And an increase in faith is not an escape from ordinary life. Faith is not an absence of doubt nor is it an absence of dark moments –St Mother Theresa had them often. Faith is not power to have miraculous solutions like magicians. What is it then?
Faith is trust in God. It’s waiting on God, confident in his bounty, that he will fulfil his promise. Hence, to pray: “Lord increase my faith” is to say Lord help me to be more trusting. This faith will not eliminate the violence, the wars, the deception…but it will rather give me the energy to carry on in hope even when, humanly speaking, everything seems hopeless. Faith keeps me in the assurance that the apparently insurmountable rock before me does not have the last word.
A committed worthless slave
Nevertheless, this faith does imply folding arms and leave God to act. Faith is not just pious sentiment, rather, it invites me to pull up sleeves and get to work. It makes me understand that it’s with me and through me that God will accomplish his promise of liberation. No need waiting for bigger grain. The little grain of faith I have is enough to act for a world that is more human. It’s here the question of useless servant may enlighten us.
In faith, I commit myself to act. It’s not by big projects, not by acts that attract cameras -I act just with little gestures of humanity. I don’t care about the result, I just content myself to do what I’m supposed do. It’s God who will give fruit to my labour. Being useless servant is acting humanly and gratuitously for others. It’s finding joy simply in doing good.
Fan in hand, ablaze your trust
Paul encourages Timothy in similar manner in the second reading. “Join with me in suffering for the Gospel, relying on the power of God.” Paul is in prison, aged, and frail yet he seems to be beaming with the energy that comes from faith. He reminds this young bishop to be aware of the grace he has received as pastor of Christ’s flock. He shouldn’t waver. He shouldn’t let fear paralyse his efforts. He should count on the power that comes from God. That is faith. Paul asks Timothy to fan ablaze this grace he has received. And that is exactly what today’s readings are calling us to.
Yes, we have the faith bigger than the mustard seed. Let’s fan this grace into actions that will render our surrounding more human and loving. Lord give me the grace of worthless slave that I may find joy simply in doing good to those around me. Help me to be human.