27th Sunday in Ordinary Times,
Habakkuk 1:2-3. 2:2-4; Ps. 94L1-2,6-8; 2 Tim. 1: 6-8.13-14; Gosp. of Luke 17: 5-10
Preached by Msgr Philip Heng, SJ at Cathedral of Good Shepherd, Singapore on 6 October 2019
In today’s Gospel, Jesus wants you and I to be renewed in our faith regardless of the challenges we face in our lives and in the practice of our faith. Jesus too wants to assure us that He is always present to us, and His strength within us will ensure that we will be able to overcome our challenges, regardless of who we are and how painful our faith may demand of us.And so, in the first part of today’s Gospel of Luke 17:5-6 that we just heard proclaimed, when Jesus’ disciples asked Him, “Lord, increase our faith,” Jesus assures them, “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 will obey you.”
The first point we need to ask ourselves is, “Why did Jesus’ disciples asked Him to increase their faith?” To understand this, we need to look at the earlier four verses. In verses, 1 to 3, Jesus cautions His disciples, that they should never to be the cause or the hindrance of the faith of someone, especially if they are innocent and vulnerable in their faith. To this Jesus in verse 4 also adds, “If your brother does something wrong, reprove him and, if he is sorry, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times a day and seven times comes back to you and say, ‘I am sorry’, you must forgive him.”
It is in hearing these great demands of the faith that Jesus’ disciples who found them difficult to uphold asked Jesus, “Lord, increase our faith.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, let us next note that the size of a mustard seed is 1-2 millimetres in diameter, and its tree can grow to some ten meters or 30 feet in height and 20 feet in spread. And if this mulberry tree is of the species of the sycamore tree, then it can grow up to 60 feet high with deep roots. It is this tiny dot size of faith that Jesus says, can uproot a 60 feet high mulberry tree with deep roots and be thrown into the sea.
What Jesus is reminding you and I in today’s Gospel is first to note that, to live the great demands of our faith, would be humanly impossible to sustain with consistency and commitment. However, Jesus assures us that even if our faith is as small as the dot size of a mustard seed, nothing is impossible, if we rely on God to give us the strength to live our faith.
Following from this, my sisters and brothers in Christ, the next obvious questions that you and I have are, “Why is it that we do not seem to have the needed God’s strength within us to live the faith? Why is the power of God within us, not tapped and used in the daily living and challenges of our lives? Why is it so common amongst us believers to experience weaknesses in the practice of our faith?
There is a story of a traveller, David who was searching for God in his life. His travels had brought him to many places, but he does not seem to be able to find God. One day, as he was walking through a dark alley, he was greatly surprised to see a bright and very beautiful castle before him. And at the entrance of the castle, was a welcome sign. As he was approaching the entrance door, he realised that there were many other people walking pass this castle, without noticing it and as if it was not there.
Nevertheless, David entered this very beautiful and magnificent castle. As soon as he entered the door, he noticed that the people at the hall were all so joyous, and talking and relating with each other with such great sincerity and happiness. “This is too good to be true”, David says to himself. David too realised that his heart too was being filled with great joy to be present in such a place, and to such a company of people. As David looked around, he began to notice that many of these people were people he knew, and surprisingly they included people who had great challenges and crises in their lives.
With great joy in his heart, David approached the “reception counter” and asked, “This place is so beautiful and joyous. Why is it that so many people outside simply walked pass and not notice the castle? “Oh”, the person replied, “This castle is very special. It can only be seen by those who are truly and sincerely searching for God and the true meaning and fulfilment of life. This castle is also seen by those who are humble enough to admit that they have lost their way in life, and are in need of God’s help, like yourself. But, for those people who pretend that they know where they are going, and obstinately demand their own way of living their lives, their emotional and spiritual blindness will prevent them from seeing the castle.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, if we reflect on this story further, we will realise that this “castle” is not so mysterious after all. This castle is within your heart and my heart. This castle is the inner most mansion of our hearts where God resides and where we can find the true strength to live the authentic life of the Gospel that God wants of you and me to live.
My sisters and brothers, if we reflect on our lives, we will realise that at certain point in time of our lives, and even in our daily living we have the freedom to choose the type of life we want to live. We could choose to live in God’s Ways or choose to turn away from His love. Our present life is clearly the fruits of or the burdens of our past and present choices. The depth of our relationship with Jesus and the quality of our lives and daily living too depends on whether our lives are built on our love for God as Jesus has shown and taught us, or dominated by the preoccupation of our “selfish needs”.
There is a story of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the famous nineteenth century poet and artist, who was once approached by an elderly man, Jack. Jack brought some sketches and paintings that he wanted Rossetti to assess whether they were of any quality or not.
Rossetti obliged and looked at them carefully. After looking at a few, he knew that the drawings and paintings were worthless, as they showed no signs of any artistic talents. Rossetti, being a very kind and sensitive man, told Jack, the elderly man very gently that the art pieces he brought were without much value. Rossetti was very sorry he had to say what he had to say, as he could not lie to Jack.
Jack being somewhat disappointed, then asked Rossetti whether he would mind looking at another set of drawings and paintings, that were done by a very young art student. Rossetti again graciously obliged. As he began looking, he was very surprised and immediately commented with great joy, “Ah, these set of paintings are very beautiful; this young art student has great potential, and I have no doubts he would become a great and renowned artist one day, if he would work hard and persevere in developing his talents.”
Rossetti, then remarked, “Can I meet this young artist? Is he your son? With downcast eyes and with great sadness, Jack said, “Sir, you are looking at him. It is me, forty years ago. If only I had met you then, and knew that I had such great talents, I would not have given up, from the painful discouraging experiences I experienced and received from others.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, every human person has a share of the challenges of life; regardless of who we are, we could fight on or give up. This could be competing with others in our career path, this could be battling with an addiction or illness, or this could be developing the potential talents that we have or more importantly, this could be facing the challenges of the faith that God has given us.
We could face the challenges of our faith and life like David who discerns and discovers the innermost mansion of his castle of God’s Presence within us that encourages, empowers and help us endure and embrace the crosses that come our way, and through the carrying of the crosses of our lives and faith develop and deepen our relationship with Jesus. However, alternatively, we could allow our trials and challenges to so weaken us, that like Jack we can give on ourselves, and even more sadly, like many people whom we know, give up on God, and turn away from the Church and Her Teachings.
Whatever and where ever our state of life is, you and I are called by Jesus in today’s Gospel, to renew our faith in Him, for He says, “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 will obey you.”
My sisters and brothers in Christ, let us not forget that in the second half of today’s Gospel that we heard proclaimed, Jesus too reminds His disciples that they, and indeed all of us are called to live our lives in accordance to God’s Will and Ways. This means that when we have lived our lives to the full in accordance to God’s Will, and of His Love and in His Ways, regardless of how much they demand of us, Jesus reminds us that we are simply to say, “we are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.”
In other words, my brothers and sisters in Christ, and as I conclude, Jesus is reminding you and I that the deepest and ultimate purpose of our lives is to live for God, and to love and serve Him in all that we do and live, regardless of whether we are a priest, religious or lay person.
And so, this great demand of God upon us, is asking you and I to embrace the great virtue of humility that Jesus embraced, in serving His Father’s Will; a Will that led to His death on the Cross in Calvary, for the sake and Salvation of all peoples. Knowing what this total demand that God is making, it would be very understandable, if we find ourselves echoing the plea of the Jesus’ disciples in today’s Gospel and asking Him, “Lord, increase my faith.”
And, this is so because realistically, many of us know that humanly speaking on our own, to live such a life of humility of Jesus is impossible. This is because like Jack in our story, you and I, realistically know that we have the tendency to be easily discouraged by our weaknesses and failures of obeying God’s Will, and in the end fail to grow into becoming the Christ-like person that God wills of you and of me.
And if this is so, let us also remember David, in our story who reminds us that insofar as we are sincere in our search for God’s Will and admits humbly that we surely be “lost in our search for God’s Will,” at different points in time of our lives, God will surely also give us His divine wisdom to discern and discover the innermost mansion and castle within our hearts, where God’s Light and Love resides, and where we will triumph over challenges of our lives regardless of how daunting and threatening and painful they may be.
This being the case, insofar as we take little steps of fidelity and humility in the living of our faith daily, Jesus too would respond to our pleas and assure us, “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 will obey you.”.
Adapted from: The Sower’s Seeds, 100 Inspiring Stories for Preaching, Teaching & Public Speaking; by Brian Cavanaugh, T.O.R.; Paulist Press, New York, Mahwah, 1990; Nos.29, pp 26-27; Nos. 53, pp. 43-44.
Msgr Philip Heng, S.J.