Hab 1, 2-3; 2, 2-4; Ps 95; 2 Tim 1, 6-8.13-14; Lk 17.5 -10
Is 56.1 – 7; Ps 118; Rm 15.2 to 7; Lk 6.27 – 38
Fifth Sunday after the martyrdom of St. John the Precursor
1) Faith is not a question of quantity
Why in today’s Gospel the disciples ask Christ “Increase our faith” (Lk 17: 5)? Because the request to leave everything to follow Him (Lk 16, 13) and to forgive without measure (Lk 17: 3-4), made them understand how small their faith was.
They had long recognized in Christ the Son of God, the merciful and faithful Love. Today, they ask to have an ever greater trust in the merciful and faithful love of God.
In fact, only a tenacious and complete faith allows to put their lives under the sign of mercy and devotion.
The disciples of that time make it clear to us, disciples of today, that we are called to trust in the divine loyalty, that is the total and perseverant commitment with which God has entrusted himself to humanity, once and for all in his Word. To believe the Word is not a question of quantity. It is to give word to the Word and to engage fully with the One who has committed himself to us with no regret.
To make them understand that it is not a question of having a faith quantitatively big, but qualitatively authentic and tenacious, Christ uses a very convincing comparison: the mulberry tree is firmly clinging to the earth and the storms are unable to eradicate it, however, a bit of faith as small as a grain of mustard can eradicate it. Faith is to humbly and totally rely on God. It is the acceptance of a project calculated on the possibilities of God and not on our own. The chances of success are not due to the size of our ability, but to the magnitude of God’s love toward us and in which we believe.
An example comes to us from Saint Teresa of Calcutta, who certainly did not do striking gestures, but with a great and active faith has shown how the power of love flows from the power of faith. This Saint has done much more than to transplant mulberry trees into the sea. Beginning with dealing with the dying in Calcutta, she cured and saved an innumerable crowd of poor thanks to the thousands of nuns who have followed and still follow her. Through her eyes –as pure as those of the angels-Mother Teresa was able to recognize Christ in the various Lazarus she met in the world and, thanks to faith that is the source of love, has been able to treat the poorest of the poor with holy and clean hands for which touching the wounds of a sick person was like touching those of Christ. The “quality” of the faith of the Mother of the Poor has triggered a stream of totally free and unselfish love that still speaks many languages and is going to last long.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta showed that in the Church there is the ministry of charity because the Church must not only proclaim the Word, but live the Word which is charity.
Mother Teresa’s strong faith allowed her to live in total abandonment to Christ and in loving trust in Him, for whom she had “simply” made room becoming his holy abode. This faith is well expressed in her prayer: “Lord, give me the faith that moves mountains, but with love. Teach me the love that feels joy in the truth, always ready to forgive, to believe, to hope and to endure. Finally, when all these finite things will be dissolved and everything will be clear, may I have been the weak but steady reflection of your perfect love. “
This prayer will help us grow into faith active in charity.
2) Service and gratuity.
After teaching about the power of faith (it only takes a small seed to uproot a tree), today’s Gospel continues with a short parable in which Jesus does not intend to describe the behavior of God toward man, but to indicate the one of the believer toward God: a behavior of total availability, without calculation and demands.
Service and gratuity are the key features of the disciple who-as everyone in this world is in it with scandal and sin, but lives in it with mercy and forgiveness. For this reason, it is needed a steady increase of faith, namely of the knowledge of the love of God for us. We must live in service and gratuity because charity and justice are not only social volunteering, but spiritual action performed with the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Saints – and Saint Teresa is the latest example – have experienced a profound unity of life between prayer and action, between love for God and love for the neighbor.
This Saint woman became Missionary of Charity because she, with a faith so strong to resist aridity and lack of spiritual consolations, not only believed that Jesus is the greatest manifestation of God’s love, but that he is also the one to whom we are joined in order to believe. Faith for her was not only to look to Jesus, but look from the perspective of Jesus. Faith was for her, as it should be for us, a participation in the way of Christ to look at life.
As taught by Pope Francis, “Faith is hearing and vision, and is transmitted as word and as light” (Lumen fidei, 37). The most difficult task of our believing is not to accept the doctrines, but to accept faith as a vital fact that speaks and illuminates life, and gives sense and meaning to life.
In short, faith is not purely an intellectual attitude, like the mere acceptance of certain truths. Faith is a matter of living and not only of professing. It requires courageous testimony and free service. Those who declare to believe and abide in him, ought to walk as he walked (1 John 2: 6). This concept is also reiterated by the Apostle James in his letter: faith without works (charity) is vain and nonexistent (James 2, 26).
An example of this free service that becomes testimony, is given by the consecrated virgins in the world , who with the total gift of themselves to Christ show that faith is the reasonable surrender into the arms of the Beloved. These women show in an exemplary way that we all are called to trust not a hostile but a loving mystery and to follow not illogical commands but a law of freedom given by a God who makes free.
The God revealed by the Bible is the God
who asks for trust
who has walked in the desert and suffered,
who has accompanied and illuminated some Bedouin tribes making them become people of hope,
who has enlighten the kings of Israel,
who has taken men from the pasture and from the earth to make them prophets
who is the Word made flesh, and asks to be welcomed not only with the ears but with the heart.
These consecrated women have become brides of this God who especially from the Cross onwards has shown millions of times how painfully and passionately he loves us.
With their dedication, these women testify that the mustard seed, the grain of faith, is
– to believe in the love of a God who loves us infinitely and that never fails;
– to love concretely by serving the others and not using them.
– to trust and rely on the Word, the power of love that is and gives life.
Therefore, the power of faith is first and foremost the power of the love, so amazing for man and for every man, that God has manifested in His Son, and that makes the believer able to love.
THEOPHYL. The disciples hearing our Lord discoursing of certain arduous duties, such as poverty, and avoiding offenses, entreat Him to increase their faith, that so they might be able to follow poverty, (for nothing so prompts to a life of poverty as faith and hope in the Lord,) and through faith to guard against giving offenses. Therefore it is said, And the Apostles said to the Lord, Increase our faith.
GREG. That is, that the faith which has already been received in its beginning, might go on increasing more and more to perfection.
AUG. We may indeed understand that they asked for the increase of that faith by which men believe in the things which they see not; but there is further signified a faith in things, whereby not with the words only, but the things themselves present, we believe. And this shall be, when the Wisdom of God, by whom all things were made, shall reveal Himself openly to His saints face to face.
THEOPHYL. But our Lord told them that they asked well, and that they ought to believe steadfastly, forasmuch as faith could do many things; and hence it follows, And the Lord; said, you had faith as a grain. of mustard seed, & c. Two mighty acts are here brought together in the same sentence; the transplanting of that which was rooted in the earth, and the planting thereof in the sea, (for what is ever planted in the waves?) by which two things He declares the power of faith.
CHRYS. He mentions the mustard seed, because, though small in size, it is mightier in power than all the others. He implies then that the least part of faith can do great things. But though the Apostles did not transplant the mulberry tree, do not you accuse them; for our Lord said not, You shall transplant, but, You shall be able to transplant. But they did not, because there was no need, seeing that they did greater things. But some one will ask, How does Christ say, that it is the least part of faith which can transplant a mulberry tree or a mountain, whereas Paul says that it is all faith which moves mountains? We must then answer, that the Apostle imputes the moving of mountains to all faith, not as though only the whole of faith could do this, but because this seemed a great thing to carnal men on account of the vastness of the body.
BEDE; Or our Lord here compares perfect faith to a grain of mustard seed, because it is lowly in appearance, but fervid in heart. But mystically by the mulberry tree, (whose fruit and branches are red with a blood-red color,) is represented the Gospel of the cross, which, through the faith of the Apostles being uprooted by the word of preaching from the Jewish nation, in which it was kept as it were in the lineal stock, was removed and planted in the sea of the Gentiles.
AMBROSE; Or this is said because faith keeps out the unclean spirit, especially since the nature of the tree falls in with this meaning. For the fruit of the mulberry is at first white in the blossom, and being formed from thence grows red, and blackens as it gets ripe. The devil also having by transgression fallen from the white flower of the angelic nature and the bright beams of his power, grows terrible in the black odor of sin.
CHRYS. The mulberry may be also compared to the devil, for as by the leaves of the mulberry tree certain worms are fed, so the devil, by the imaginations which proceed from him, is feeding for us a never dying worm; but this mulberry tree faith is able to pluck out of our souls, and plunge it into the deep.
THEOPHYL. Because faith makes its possessor a keeper of God’s commandments, and adorns him with wonderful works; it would seem from thence that a man might thereby fall into the sin of pride. Our Lord therefore forewarned His Apostles by a fit example, not to boast themselves in their virtues, saying, But which of you having a servant plowing, &c.
AUG. Or else; To the many who understand not this faith in the truth already present, our Lord might seem not to have answered the petitions of His disciples. And there appears a difficulty in the connection here, unless we suppose He meant the change from faith to faith, from that faith, namely, by which we serve God, to that whereby we enjoy Him. For then will our faith be increased when we first believe the word preached, next the reality present. But that joyful contemplation possesses perfect peace, which is given to us in the everlasting kingdom of God. And that perfect peace is the reward of those righteous labors, which are performed in the administration of the Church. Be then the servant in the field ploughing, or feeding, that is, in this life either following his worldly business, or serving foolish men, as it were cattle, he must after his labors return home, that is, be united to the Church.
BEDE; Or the servant departs from the field when giving up for a time his work of preaching, the teacher retires into his own conscience, pondering his own words or deeds within himself. To whom our Lord does not at once say, Go from this mortal life, and sit down to meat, that is, refresh yourself in the everlasting resting-place of a blessed life.
AMBROSE; For we know that no one sits down before he has first passed over. Moses indeed also passed over, that he might see a great sight. Since then you not only say to your servant, Sit down to meat, but require from him another service, so in this life the Lord does not put up with the performance of one work and labor, because as long as we live we ought always to work. Therefore it follows, And will not rather say, Make ready wherewith I may sup.
BEDE; He bids make ready wherewith he may sup, that is, after the labors of public discourse, He bids him humble himself in self-examination. With such a supper our Lord desires to be fed. But to gird one’s self is to collect the mind which has been enfolded in the base coil of fluctuating thoughts, whereby its steps in the cause of good works are wont to be entangled. For he who girds up his garments does so, that in walking he may not be tripped up. But to minister to God, is to acknowledge that we have no strength without the help of His grace.
AUG. While His servants also are ministering, that is, preaching the Gospel, our Lord is eating and drinking the faith and confession of the Gentiles.
It follows, And afterward you shall eat and drink. As if He says, After that I have been delighted with the work of your preaching, and refreshed myself with the choice food of your compunction, then at length shall you go, and feast yourself everlastingly with the eternal banquet of wisdom.
CYRIL; Our Lord teaches us that it is no more than the just and proper right of a master to require, as their bounder duty, subjection from servants, adding, Does he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. Here then is the disease of pride cut away. Why boast you yourself? Do you know that if you pay not your debt, danger is at hand, but if you pay, you do nothing thank-worthy? As St. Paul says, For though I preach the Gospel I have nothing to glory of, for necessity is laid upon me, yea woe is to me if I preach not the Gospel (1Co 9,16).
Observe then that they who have rule among us, do not thank their subjects, when they perform their appointed service, but by kindness gaining the affections of their people, breed in them a greater eagerness to serve them. So likewise God requires from us that we should wait upon Him as His servants, but because He is merciful, and of great goodness, He promises reward to them that work, and the greatness of His loving-kindness far exceeds the labors of His servants.
AMBROSE; Boast not yourself then that you have been a good servant. You have done what you ought to have done. The sun obeys, the moon submits herself, the angels are subject; let us not then seek praise from ourselves. Therefore He adds in conclusion, So likewise you, when you have done all good things, say, We are unprofitable servants, we have done that which it was our duty to do.
BEDE; Servants, I say, because bought with a price; unprofitable, for the Lord needs not our good things, or because the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us. Herein then is the perfect faith of men, when having done all things which were commanded them, they acknowledge themselves to be imperfect.