Today’s Gospel has two parts that are not quite connected – the first part on the “mustard seed” and the second part on the “servant and Master.” In this homily, I have chosen to reflect on the challenges of our faith in the “mustard seed.” Our Gospel begins with the Apostle asking Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith.” I am sure all of us here too would like to make the same petition to Our Lord. What was Jesus’ answer? He said, “If your faith is only the size of a mustard seed, you will be able to move and uproot a mulberry tree.” Elsewhere, in Matthew’s Gospel 17:20, Jesus was more graphic and said, “If your faith was the size of a mustard seed, you could even move mountains.”
Our faith is the most important aspect of our lives because it concerns our eternal life. If we say we are doing and experiencing a lot of things in our lives and are very happy, then happiness can only be true happiness if it is connected to the gift of eternal life that God wants to give us. Today, we could reflect on the basic question, “If our faith offers us eternal life, why then is it so difficult to live our faith to the full?”
Perhaps, I could begin with the story of a man who was camping in the Alps; let us call him Tom. One night, Tom slipped and fell from the mountain. He tumbled and crashed on to the steep slopes of the mountain and eventually fell off the high cliff. As he was plunging to his death he screamed, “God, save me!” All of a sudden, he hit a tree that was growing out of the cliff. His prayer was answered instantly. So, he clung on to the tree for life. After a while, he realized that while the tree had saved him, he is now trapped and suspended in mid air. So after some time, when no one came to his rescue he shouted, “God, save me! God save me!” To his surprise, he heard a distinct voice saying, “Let go!” He thought for a while and said, “Let go?! No Way! I will fall and die!” So he hung on to the tree the whole night. Next morning, Tom was found dead and frozen. He was only 3 feet above the ground!
There are some lessons about our life and our faith in this simple story.
First lesson: when we are faced with difficult decisions or a crisis in our life, we must always remember to call on God for help. Never try to make difficult decisions or try to solve our crisis on our own.
Second lesson: when we call on God for help, we have to believe that He will surely come to our rescue – That’s our faith. Jesus has so many times in the Bible tell us to “knock and the door will be open, seek and you will find . . .” and the like. So, we must always Trust God.
Third lesson: when we trust God, we must at the same time realize that our Trust in God only works when we dare to “let go” of our “false securities” in our lives. What are these “false securities?” They are anything in our lives that prevent us from trusting God fully.
Our “false securities” in our lives vary with different persons. There are no general “false securities”. Thus, each of us would have to discover personally what these “false securities” are for ourselves. For some, they are our financial and material wealth that prevents us from trusting in God more fully. For others, they are our gifts, talents, intelligence, good looks, good health that prevent us from trusting in God more fully. Still for others, they are our popularity, power and the like.
The most common form of “false security” is to want to be in control of our present and future life which makes developing a strong faith in God very difficult. This is because “false securities” confine us within our limited human experiences and narrow thinking, but often prevents and cuts off the divine reality of the great things of what God can do for us if we only dare to trust more fully in Him. It is like Jesus, inviting us, as He invited Peter, to get out of our boats and our “comfort zones” and walk towards Him on the water. We would probably answer, “Yes Lord, I will come to you.” But, then before stepping out of our boats and comfort zone, we would put on the life jacket . . . just in case!
Tom, in the story would have lived if he only “let go” of is “false security” of wanting to be in full control of the crisis he faced. If we look at the great models of Faith in the Bible, we would immediately think of Abraham. Abraham struggled so hard to try to make sense of God’s Will that he has to sacrifice his only precious son, Issac to God. It did not make sense because Issac was in the first place given to him and his wife Sarah, as a special blessing in their old age, and to remove them of the “curse” of barrenness. Abraham must have questioned God repeatedly, “Why? Why? Why are you asking this of me?” This was because he loved his son very much. In the end, Abraham knew he had to simply Trust God and “let go” of Issac.
Mary too could not understand why God chose her to be the Mother of Jesus, the Son of God, and that she was to be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Like Abraham, Mary’s faith too was severely tested, and in accepting God’s plan she risked bring stoned to death for being pregnant before he marriage. Yet, Mary courageously and selflessly put God before her own fears, and simply trusted that God would provide for her needs.
Yes, my brothers and sisters in Christ. If we want to deepen our faith in God, we need to learn to “let go” of our “false securities” and attachments in our lives and go beyond our “comfort zones” of wanting to be in control of what ever happens to our lives.
Our Blessed Mother Teresa, we learnt recently suffered, other than five weeks, fifty years of emotional and spiritual desolations. Yet, we must say that she is one of the most selfless, compassionate and God loving Christian believer of our times. There is a story of Mother Teresa embracing and nursing a dying man in the street. The dying man’s body was covered with open and putrefying sores; dogs would not even want to get near him. A man passing by said to Mother Teresa, “I would not do what you are doing for a million dollars.” Mother Teresa answered, “Neither would I.”
Mother Teresa’s words of wisdom and her works of charity to the poorest of the poor in Kolkata and all over the world clearly reveal her sanctity and holiness. Mother Teresa specifically forbade her Missionary of Charities nuns from fundraising activities for their needs, as she said, “that would distract at least one nun from her ‘real work’ of serving the sick and the dying of the poor.” As a side remark, I would like to say that only skeptics and faithless people would conclude that Mother Teresa’s experiences of her spiritual darkness throws doubt on her faith and holiness.
Before I conclude, we may wish to ask ourselves, “How can we each live our faith more fully and deepen our trust in the Lord more wholeheartedly?” Our Superior General of the Society of Jesus used the term “Creative Fidelity” in one of his documents, and I would like to borrow it to remind ourselves that we, you and I, need to find creative ways of living our faith more fully daily. “Creative fidelity” is also about learning how to love our family, relatives, neighbours, the poor and others more creatively. “Creative fidelity” is about trying to personalize our faith in God and developing an intimacy with the Lord. Otherwise, we may end up simply living our faith in a routine manner of doing a lot of things, but not really know why we do what we do. In our “creative fidelity” we also challenge us to find more effective ways of praying more meaningfully and more regularly. And also to reach out to those who are hurting more compassionately, more forgivingly, more caringly and more selflessly like Christ.
The “mustard seed” is the smallest of all seeds. It is as big as a dot on a line. Jesus in today’s Gospel aptly describes our faith as that of the size of a “mustard seed”. However, Jesus also assures us that if we dare to deepen our faith in Him and trust in Him more fully, over time we will be able to develop a strong faith that is able to uproot mulberry trees and move mountains. Indeed, unlike Tom in the story, but like Abraham and Mary, who were able to remain faithful to God at all times, we too would be able to make difficult decisions in life and “leg go” of our attachments and “false securities” more easily. We too would be able to say to the Lord, “Yes, Lord, I now know that with a strong faith in you, nothing is impossible to weather and overcome because your strength and love is enough for me.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J.
Fr Philip Heng, S.J. celebrating the Eucharist