October 2, 2016 — Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
The Gospel Reading for this 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time from St. Luke, chapter 17, opens with this line: “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith’.” That is sort of a summation of all of today’s readings. In fact, it might be an accurate statement of what many of our prayers entail: “Increase our faith.” That is what we all most likely strive to achieve.
St. Thomas Aquinas may have described faith most accurately in his famous quote, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” It is this faith that is at the nucleus of all of our readings today.
Scholars and theologians have concluded that the theme of the entire Book of Habbakuk, the Old Testament prophet who gives us our First Reading, is to grow from a faith of doubt to a faith that is fulfilled by an absolute trust in God. Habbakuk points out that each of us may see our weaknesses and our inability to trust in God in ourselves; however, this is not truly a weakness. It keeps us humble, which is an important element of faith and stewardship, and it makes us value salvation even more.
For the prophet Habbakuk faith is quite clear and obvious. In today’s reading he says, “Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time…and will not disappoint…The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.” Faith means life.
Our Second Reading is from one of St. Paul’s letters to Timothy. It is believed that this letter may have been the last written by St. Paul, which has come to us through Holy Scripture. Paul was in prison and his death was imminent; yet, his advice to Timothy had everything to do with faith. From Paul’s perspective Timothy was not bold enough in his faith; he did not practice it with the confidence Paul felt he should. Paul says in this reading, “Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.”
As is usually the case, that is advice to all of us. St. Paul’s message to Timothy and to us is that faith is not intended to remove our difficulties; faith is there to see us through the difficult times. That is the beauty and joy of faith. However, as St. Paul indicates, it is only something we can grasp and hold with the help of the Lord, the “help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.”
Is it any surprise that the Apostles appeal to the Lord to “Increase our faith?” This man, the Son of God, whom they have given up everything to follow, keeps reminding them of what they must do be good followers, good stewards. He has told them that they have to be forgiving; He has made it clear that they are expected to love everyone, including their enemies. They are fully aware that without Him they cannot accomplish this. That is so true of us as well.
Jesus speaks of faith the size of a mustard seed. Most of us have become aware how minute a mustard seed is. The Lord’s meaning is that even a little faith can be quite powerful. He says that faith the size of a mustard seed can uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea. You need to be aware that the roots of a mulberry tree were known to be extraordinarily deep and strong. Many believed that mulberry trees survived for centuries and could not be uprooted or killed.
That is what Jesus is teaching in this Gospel Reading. We may have unforgiveness and bitterness deeply rooted within us. However, through faith, even a small amount, the Lord can rip those roots out of us. What is important about our faith is not how much there is, but what kind of faith it is. A small amount of faith can accomplish great things if that small amount of faith is placed in a great, mighty, and all-powerful God.