October 2, 2016
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
We are at the beginning of Chapter 17 of the Gospel according to Luke, where we find some words of Jesus on community life: first he speaks of the imperative that no one creates scandals and woe to him that causes them (Lk 17:1-3a), then he speaks of fraternal correction and the necessity of forgiving always (“seven times in the day”) (Lk 17:3b-4), and then we find the two short extracts of today’s Gospel (Lk 17:5-10), on faith and service.
We can try to understand the first verses in the following way: the primary obstacle to fraternal life, potentially, resides within each of us, because no one can claim to be exempt from the possibility of being a scandal to another. When there is a problem, we are usually led to look for the cause in others. Instead, Jesus says: “Be on guard”, “Be attentive to yourselves!” (CEI version) (Lk 17:3).
But, it can happen (verses 3-4) that the problem really does come from the sin of the brother; in that case, Jesus calls us back to our responsibility, to the duty of not abandoning the brother in his wrongdoing, but to go and look for him, to bring him home, to welcome him, even if he should commit the same fault seven times in the day. The sin of my brother, before everything else, gets me provoked!
The apostles’ question to Jesus (“Increase our faith!” v.6) arises perhaps from the amazement at his statements, from the troubled perception that in order to arrive at this level of discipleship who knows what strength, what determinations, and what holiness may be necessary.
It is interesting that they ask Jesus to increase, to augment, to add, revealing yet again a closed-in worldly mentality, which continues to think in terms of greatness, power, and certainty.
Worldly logic always seeks great things, it trusts that which is strong.
But the way of faith has another logic, and it fits in more with littleness, with what is not apparent, with what is poor and least.
It is good that Jesus compares faith to a seed: is there anything stronger than a seed?
If worldly power is one that occupies space, that imposes laws, that acts dishonestly, the power of the seed is one that increases life, that is patient, that injects new dynamics into history, that knows how to see the good wherever it exists: it is the faith that we find in the first reading (Hab 2: 2-4), humble and tenacious faith that knows how to wait, that accepts the humble patience of the journey, that does not despair.
If it were great, if it were strong, it would be a confidence and a power like any other worldly power.
But faith is not so much being strong, as it is knowing how to trust in the power of an Other; not by chance does St Paul say that really when he is weak, then he is strong (2Cor 12:10).
And not surprisingly, in the Gospel according to Luke, does faith belongs to the simple, to those that do not depend on their own strength but allow space in their life for the work of the Lord, to those that trust and abandon themselves to Him.
This faith, which is changed into littleness, which is nurtured by trust and abandonment, this faith – says Jesus – is able to bring about even that which seems impossible: the mulberry (or sycamore) is considered a strong and robust tree, practically ineradicable…
Faith concerns precisely impossible things, not because it adorns life with miracles, but because it makes us capable of the greatest miracle that can happen to a person, that of being able to transform evil into good, of drawing life even from death.
In the face of the mystery of evil, where man is alone and powerless, faith enables one to take the step that reopens a way, that recreates trust and makes it possible to find meaning: because in faith nothing is ever definitively dead.
Then all that is profoundly rooted in us, everything that our strength could not budge even one millimeter, can find salvation if only we have faith the size of a mustard seed.
The parable of servant is therefore connected here, to say that our works are not our strength. We cannot lay claim to rights against God if we have observed everything with meticulous precision, because faith is the capacity to be surprised by the gift that God gives us.
The parable does not wish to describe the attitude of the Father, portraying it as that of a demanding and insatiable master. Rather, it says that faith is not like a contract, by which you would have a right to a reward; and you can never consider yourself “done and dusted”, because the work is never finished. Simply because it is not a work, but the reception of a gift…