Gospel Luke 17:5-10
The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ The Lord replied, ‘Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.
‘Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, “Come and have your meal immediately”? Would he not be more likely to say, “Get my supper laid; make yourself tidy and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink yourself afterwards”? Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, “We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.”’
Even the apostles needed reassurance. ‘Increase our faith’, they requested. It is comforting that even Jesus’ chosen disciples felt the need to ask for the gift of faith, even in the bodily presence of Christ. Jesus colourful reply to his disciples intimates that with faith, all things are possible and he seems to imply that their faith is limited indeed.
Jesus instructs his disciples to go on doing their duties. He describes a servant acting in faith rather than moaning about how little of it he has. To get up and do, to uproot oneself, Jesus knew, may be as hard as to move a mulberry bush by faith alone. Every journey, as the saying goes, begins with a single step.
To recognise our obligations to; our dependence on; and our duties towards God is perhaps the beginning of faith. It was Adam, speaking for all of us, who first said, ‘I will not serve’. Christ, by contrast, instructs the disciples to say, ‘We are merely servants’. ‘We have done no more than our duty’. The bottom line of faith is perhaps the recognition of our utter dependence on God, and the carrying out of the duties that flow from that admission.
On God’s part; the prophet reminds us that there were no good old days. There has always been trouble and strife, injustice and violence, tyranny, dissension and discord. The mills of God grind slowly but they grind exceedingly fine seems to be the message. Justice comes eventually. The truth will out. The one who will live and survive is the person of faith, the one with hope and with patience and perseverance. The one whose soul is not at rights -‘see how he flags’ says the prophet.
Jesus had just taught the disciples to offer unlimited forgiveness. Perhaps this prompted their request for an increase in faith. It is hard to believe in the generosity and finality of God’s forgiveness. Whatever it is we need faith in or faith for, Jesus encourages us to believe that a little faith is capable of realising what seems at first impossible or extraordinary.
Saint Paul, in whose life faith in Jesus had worked a transformation, speaks of faith as a flame to be fanned, as a spirit which strengthens, as a gift entrusted to us to be treasured. Faith is to be prayed for as gift, to be worked for as duty, to be trusted in as promise, and to be followed through joys and through suffering, to the eternal life won for us by Christ; the prize and the hope to which our faith looks forward.