An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Carl Bloch, 1873.
First reading Habakkuk 1:2-3,2:2-4
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 94(95):1-2,6-9
Second reading 2 Timothy 1:6-8,13-14
Gospel Luke 17:5-10
“How long, O Lord, am I to cry for help while you will not listen; to cry ‘Oppression!’ in your ear and you will not save?” (Hab 1:2). Have you ever found yourself calling out to the Lord in these or similar words? When I hear this (the prophet Habakkuk’s complaint), I think of those enslaved by addiction, crying out time and again for freedom; I think of those oppressed by violence, or those confronted with sudden illness, or families suddenly scarred by tragedy, death or misfortune; I think of those just struggling with life from day to day. There are plenty of situations in which we might find ourselves at some time or other, crying out in the prophet’s words– “how long, O Lord, am I to cry out for help while you will not listen?” Sometimes such situations can make us feel abandoned, forgotten, or even punished by God. Indeed, it is important for us to be honest. If we feel abandoned, tell him! The Lord can handle it! If we feel cursed, talk to the Lord about it. Bring it to prayer, stand in truth and keep coming to the Lord with what is on your heart. The worst thing we can do, and many people do this, is to begin with the prophet’s words “How long, O Lord, am I to cry for help while you will not listen?” and then conclude either that the Lord isn’t listening, or that he doesn’t exist at all. Many a person has either rebelled against God in anger because of their suffering, or have given up the faith entirely because things didn’t turn out according to the way they wanted. This is a disaster!
So, when we find ourselves in anguish, grappling with whatever suffering has come our way, what are we to do? Well, we shouldn’t be afraid to cry out to the Lord and speak with him in honesty as the prophet does. Second, the Apostles in our Gospel today show us what we should do next: they beg Jesus, “increase our faith!” (Lk 17:5). What an honest and vulnerable prayer! Faith can be so fragile at times; how easy it is to turn our gaze away from Jesus and place our trust elsewhere when we are besieged with temptation or crushed by grief. ‘Lord, increase my faith!’ Jesus then reminds 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 would obey you.’” In other words, faith, just a little bit of faith, can do wonders for us, uprooting even those obstacles in our lives that seem so immoveable. The thing about a mustard seed, however, is that it is very small, meaning it can easily get lost or fall through the cracks! If we have that tiny glimmer of true faith in us dear brothers and sisters, we must guard it diligently, therefore, nourishing it intentionally with the grace of the Sacraments, with regular prayer, with the Holy Scriptures, with charity, and with Christian fellowship. All these things help to safeguard and grow our mustard seed of faith, which God himself has given us.
Undergirding all this, dear brothers and sisters, we need to beg God for the virtue of humility. In the Gospel the Lord goes on to remind us what we are, and this will challenge us: “which of you,” he says, “with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, ‘come and have your meal immediately’? 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’? Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? 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.’” In fact, the Greek text uses slightly harsher language. It literally says, “we are useless/unnecessary/unneeded servants” (ἀχρεῖος). Here Jesus points out that when we do what the Lord asks of us, we don’t deserve a medal, we’ve simply done our duty! Therefore we ought to live out our faith with the constant remembrance that the Lord does not need us, that we are, so to speak, “useless” or “unnecessary” to God. Now, this is not a case of morbidly low self-esteem. In fact, just the opposite: The Lord could have created a world without you and me. He doesn’t need us. There’s nothing we can give him that he doesn’t already have. And yet, he chose to create us! he chose to call us out of darkness and into his wonderful light! He chose to draw us into his love and to graciously bestow his own life upon us! What an extraordinary privilege! It is a privilege to be a servant of God, a privilege that should humble us to our knees and fill us with profound joy. So rather than saying, why do I have to go to Mass? Why do I have to go to confession? Why do I have to pray? Why do I have to read the Bible? We should instead be asking, “why do I get to go to Mass? Why do I get to go to confession? Why do I get to pray? etc… Dear friends, it is a blessing to do these things, and it is with this fundamental reshaping of our mindset to a spiritual outlook of humility that should lead us to gratitude, which in turn leads to joy and can guard against every shipwreck in our faith. With this humble and grateful way of being, we could never blame God in anger for the bad things that happen to us. We could never give up on our faith when things are tough. Rather does it impel us cling to the Lord ever more firmly, with a faith that humbly waits on the Lord and hands over to him the hardships, temptations and sufferings that we endure in this world.
Brothers and sisters, let this be our prayer today. “Lord, increase our faith!”