This week’s gospel reflection: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Luke 17:5-10)

Following a simple request by the apostles to increase their faith, Jesus seems to reply with a harsh retort. They already knew they had little faith, for that is why they asked for an increase, but smaller than the size of a mustard seed!? This striking comparison still today reverberates – for if the faith of the apostles was smaller than a mustard seed, how much smaller is ours that never got to see Jesus perform miracles or hear him teach authoritatively? And still today I do not see trees uprooted or mountains moved because a person of faith has told them to do so. Our faith remains still less than a mustard seed. But what is faith?

Faith is one of the three theological virtues: faith, hope and love; the greatest of these being love St. Paul says in 1Cor 13:13. But that does not make faith unimportant. On the contrary. I think of these as a skyscraper. While love is what makes us want to reach the sky, faith is the foundation of that love. (Hope, incidentally, is what knits the building together.) Love may exceed faith, but it must always presume it for it otherwise becomes not the love of God but the love of self; just as hope in God presumes faith, otherwise we place that hope in man.

Following the retort is what can seem to be a disjointed parable. One could validly ask what has that got to do with faith? Through Jesus’s parable he outlines a few features of faith. A first observation is humility. This final resonating note of humility is the entry path to attaining faith – and although there are many things within the parable this is the main point Jesus was trying to make. Even if we have faith enough to uproot trees, pride could easily set in. We see this with the Pharisees from time to time.

Humility leads to trust which leads to service. Once we become submissive to a master we do what we are told, without reward. Many saints over history have said that they have done little in their work – Thomas Aquinas’s “all is straw” deathbed comment could be a case in point. Yet his service to the faith of the church was great. But he recognizes that it is not his work but that of the master.

This love directed faith comes about through a relationship established between master and servant – a master who calls us friend and laid down his life for us. A loving service that is not only reciprocated but becomes the example we must follow.

While it is foundational, faith continues to grow through loving service. When we see love in action and right relationships restored with family, with friends, with society, and with God, our faith grows. Service of others becomes the garden bed of faith. It is confronting, challenging, disquieting and often works in silent. But faith extends us beyond our capabilities and may one day enable us to uproot trees. But stay humble about it, brother!

On a related matter, the attached picture is a flyer of an upcoming men’s conference called Moving Mountains. Celebrating the conclusion of the Year of Faith, it is a day long event with some great guest speakers. The day finishes with mass. Come along if you can get there. If you can’t, I ask you to pray for its success. I hope the day fills many men with faith and provides ways in which they can live that faith in their daily lives.

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