-6th October 2019-
Gospel reading: Luke 17:5-10
vs.5 The apostles said to the Lord. “Increase our faith.”
vs.6 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.
vs.7 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’?
vs.8 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’?
vs.9 Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told?
vs.10 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.'”
We have four commentators available from whom you may wish to choose.
Michel DeVerteuil : Michel, a Trinidadian Holy Ghost Priest, was director of the Centre of Biblical renewal .
Thomas O’Loughlin: Thomas is on the theology faculty of Nottingham University
Sean Goan:Sean studied scripture in Rome, Jerusalem and Chicago and teaches at Blackrock College and works with Le Chéile.
Donal Neary SJ: Donal is editor of The Sacred Heart Messenger *********************************************************************
Michel de Verteuil
Lectio Divina The Year of Luke
General Textual comments
This Sunday’s passage is in two clearly distinct sections:
– verses 5 to 6 – a teaching on faith; and
– verses 7 to 10 – a parable on humble service.
If you decide to meditate on the first section, enter into the movement of the story, identifying with the request of the apostles as well as with Jesus’ response. Be careful how you handle the obvious exaggeration in the saying: remain faithful to the dramatic promise, but at the same time let your meditation be rooted in actual experience.
If you are meditating on the parable, remember the kind of teaching a parable is. This warning is specially important here as we could draw wrong conclusions from this parable – that God is a harsh taskmaster, for example, or that employers should treat their employees as the parable suggests.
Lord, one of the marks of our modern culture
is that we are always looking for more things,
more knowledge, more money, and more energy,
so naturally we look for more faith as well.
But you teach us that true faith is based on reality
and this means accepting our lack of courage,
our regrets and our fears,
and that in fact our faith is as small as a mustard seed.
With this kind of honesty we can achieve great things,
even to say to a mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,”
and it will obey us.
“One person who can express himself in life exercises a force superior to
all the forces of brutality.” … Gandhi
Lord, nowadays when people want to move trees they call in a bulldozer,
and when they want to influence people they call in armies;
so we end up thinking that all life’s problems can be solved
once we have machines that are powerful enough.
We thank you for the great people of our time,
people like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Danilo Dolci,
who remind us, as Jesus did, that virtue has greater power than any machine,
and that if we have faith we can say to great trees,
“Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and they will obey us.
Lord, we remember with gratitude people we have known
who have done good work without any fuss:
– good neighbors,
– those who care for the sick and the needy.
the kind of people who when they had worked hard all day and returned home,
took it for granted that they must get supper laid,
make themselves tidy and wait on others while they ate and drank,
content that they themselves would eat and drink afterwards.
Lord, help those of us who are involved in training young people not to pamper them,
giving them the illusion that in life we get quick rewards for our efforts.
Help us rather to challenge them as Jesus has challenged us,
showing them that if we want to do anything worthwhile in life
– and that includes being good fathers and mothers –
we must be ready to work hard, and at the end of the day
not expect to have anyone say to us “Come and have your meal immediately.”
We are more likely to hear that we must get supper laid,
make ourselves tidy, and wait on others while they eat and drink
and only afterwards we will be able to drink and eat ourselves.
“There is another manner of loving which is when the soul seeks
to serve our Lord for nothing in return, for love alone,
without demanding to know the reason why,
and without any reward of grace or glory.” … Beatrice of Nazareth
Lord, forgive us that we turn our prayer life into bargaining with you,
expecting that because we have done your will, you will tell us,
“Come and have your meal immediately”.
Lead us to that prayer where we leave ourselves totally in your hands,
and when we have done all we have been told to do,
we say, “We are merely servants who have done no more than our duty.”
Liturgical Resources for the Year of Luke
Life is a journey, and for us who follow Jesus Christ it is a journey to the fullness of life, but also a journey of faith. We live our lives and walk in the footsteps of the Christ knowing that there is a great mystery surrounding us, but knowing also that we walk by faith and not by sight. As we begin to celebrate these sacred mysteries, let us pray for an increase in faith and a new energy to follow in the path of the Son of God.
The gospel today is made up of two distinct items handed down in the kerygma which have no inherent link; and in this the lection is no better than the gospel text that simply puts them together. The problem is that those who hear the gospel read assume unconsciously that this is a well-formed distinct item where all the ideas follow one another in a narrative or logical sequence. Since this is the assumption, they then either find the text perplexing and confusing, or create some rationale, however bizarre, to explain the sequence they imagine trust be there.
What we have is a ‘saying’ by Jesus on faith (17:5-7) which is also found in Mt 17:20, but which (as often happens in Luke) is not given as a saying but as the reply to a question from the apostles. Verse 6 has to be read as a single statement and remembered as such — the context is simply glue to hold it in a place within the overall gospel narrative. The second element in today’s readings is a parable, found only in Luke, on the Servant’s Wages. The parable has one point: the disciples are to do their work and expect no reward. The text has been a problem since the earliest exegesis of Luke and it is still wholly obscure what the original message of this parable was. Today’s gospel is a good case for shattering the fundamentalist assumption that the gospels are perfect documents.
1. The first saying in today’s gospel gives an opening to preach on the topic of faith, although, in effect, this is really only using the gospel as a peg on which to hang a sermon rather than in any sense giving a homily on the readings. However, there is just not enough time in a homily to look at a question like ‘what do we mean by “faith”?’; or, at least, to look on it in any satisfactory way. Indeed, given what we know about how adults learn, trying to address serious human questions in any format that is like that of a homily is at best of only marginal value because the homily does not permit any exchange of ideas or questions. However, there are many for whom the homily is the only form of instruction to which they are exposed or to which they are prepared to expose themselves, so we have to try to formulate complex questions in snippets of five to ten minutes, and just hope that in such situations we do not betray our riches in order to deliver them in bite-sized chunks (and in a situation where we have no way of knowing how people are ‘hearing’ what we are saying).
2. ‘Faith’ is not a word that is widely used in everyday conversation. When it is used it tends to be a synonym for religion as in ‘She follows the Jewish faith’; or ‘He kept the faith’ meaning that he held onto those values of a time long past; or else ‘She was acting in good faith’ which is just a translation of the technical legal phrase ‘bona fides’. What is interesting is that in most uses it is something that another has, rather than a quality of one’s own life. When religious people use the word it often means simply acceptance of the doctrines of their religion, and faith ‘without doubts’ is equivalent to full conviction. By contrast, when people say they have ‘lost faith’ they mean they no longer ‘buy into’ the stories, doctrines, practices, or moral vision of the religion to which they once belonged. Faith is religion or a quality of adherence to religion.
3. But is this what faith means within Christianity? Faith is a quality of life, a way of living, and a way of seeing. To be able to see the world and all its bits and pieces from pebbles to galaxies is the faculty of normal sight. To be able to imagine it as beautiful and to see it as having order and goodness is to ‘see’ in another way – this ‘seeing’ is faith. To see human lives with all their ups and downs is normal seeing, but when we commit ourselves that humans must be loved, cared for, and not treated as ‘things’ then we are seeing far beyond material structures, and this seeing, which imagines the whole human words of love and care, is part of faith. The gathering that we are presently taking part in may contain some siblings, but to see all of us as somehow related as sisters and brothers is to ‘see’ far beyond sibling groups and to be able to imagine bonds that are invisible and reach beyond the universe.
4. Faith is the ability to imagine life at its fullest. Faith is being able to imagine it as proceeding from God, proceeding under his care, and returning to God. In such a view of faith, doubts are not like faults in a motorcar – first indications that it is all going to break down – but part of normal life. Indeed, doubt is the growing edge of faith. Doubt forces me to ask questions of myself, others, the tradition, and of my own and others’ ways of acting. Faith sees the big picture, but the big picture is never as clear as our view of the details.
5. But, when we form that big picture we are then confronted with the question: is this just a pretty picture or is it the truest grasp on the whole of life that I can find? If it is the truest grasp, if it has the ring of truth and solidity about it, then We must commit ourselves to it as The Truth, and then pattern our lives within that vision seen ‘in a glass darkly’.
Let the Reader understand
Given some of the difficult teaching of Jesus that the disciples have been listening to, it is not surprising that they should now turn to Jesus and ask him to increase their faith. Once again, however, they find themselves on the receiving end of another comment that is hard to grasp. Instead of telling them how to increase their faith Jesus simply says that if their faith was the size of a tiny mustard seed then they could do amazing things. In the parable that follows we might have an explanation as to why he gave them such an answer. The parable indicates that a servant’s place is to serve and it is foolish to think of their role in any other way. Here Jesus is not be seen promoting systems that oppress; rather he is using an example from daily life to say to the disciples be careful that your attitude to God is not one of asking ‘what’s in it for me?’ Again and again the gospel of Luke makes it very clear that the way of the disciple is hard but that is only because dying to yourself is hard. The paradox is that this is the only way to be really alive and at peace with the world.
We know that Paul was familiar with the writings of the Prophet Habakkuk since he quoted him in the letter to the Romans. ‘The righteous person will live by faith.’ Paul knew that his faith in Jesus had brought him to a new and dynamic relationship with God. This was ‘righteousness’ in his eyes, and his life had become a witness to it. He worked long and hard and suffered much so that people of all religions and no religion could come to understand what God had done for them in Jesus. Now he is urging Timothy to a similar faithfulness, one that is based not on his own strength but on his awareness of the gift of the Spirit within. Habakkuk had wondered where the absent God was. Paul had come to know through faith in the crucified Christ that God was never absent but endured our suffering with us.
Gift of Faith
Interesting that Jesus says we don’t need much faith – only the size of a mustard seed,, the smallest of all seeds in his time. Does he really mean this?
He seems to be saying that faith does not depend on us. It is a gift from God/ which grows throughout our lives’fanned into a flame’, as in the second reading. We need to have confidence in the faith we have rather than always berating ourselves that it is little. In the Christian parish and community there is often more faith than we realise.
In a parish we have the people who serve the sick and the poor; those who pray a lot and those who worship; those who reflect on faith and question. There are the families where faith is expressed in many different ways. Every moment where we come in touch with the world beyond ourselves, whether directly religious or not, is a moment of faith.
We can trace the history of our own faith and remember personal moments that strengthened the faith. These can be varied – prayer, love, works of justice, the beauty of creation, times of illness and death, sacramental life. What is important is that they are personal moments between us and God, which are privileged times of the growth of the mustard seed of faith.
We need the faith community. We need to work together for the just world recognised in the first reading as the prophet ‘denounces violence, contention and discord/ We need the leadership of the community, clerical and lay, to point out ways of faith for our culture and our times, In this way God grows the mustard seed, which is the beginning of faith.
In the end faith grows in surprising ways. God is at work all the time, supporting our faith in varied and heartfelt ways.
Lord, I believe, strengthen my belief.