27 Sunday of Year C
Kb 1:2-3; 2:2-4; 2Tm 1:6-8, 13-14; Lk 17:5-10
Introduction: This is a homily/Scripture reflection in a book, titled: ‘Every Week God Speaks We Respond’, Cycle C, intended to be published in the future by Reverend John Tran Binh Trong.
It was published in Vietnamese in the US 2009 and republished in Viet Nam 2012. To keep the author’s writing style, this homily has not been edited and may not be by a hired hand. However, if readers would like to point out mistake(s) in spelling and grammar and/or to suggest English phrases and expressions, it would be greatly appreciated by the author, whose English is not his mother tongue and who did not live in the US until his adulthood. Passive sentences are used intentionally in this context as to avoid using the first personal pronoun ‘I’ when applicable. That might be associated with any idea of egotism, in accord with the French saying, known as: ‘Le moi est haissable’ (The ego is detestable).
In our everyday life, we might meet people who tend to believe almost everything people tell them. As a result, they can be easily deceived. On the other hand, we can meet people who find it hard to believe anything said to them. They are doubters. In today's Gospel, the apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith, when they faced difficulties and challenges of their discipleship. They thought if they had more faith, then everything would be fine with no more problem. Jesus told them they misunderstood what faith is.
The question here was not that they needed more faith, but they needed a different quality of faith, i.e., they needed a strong and perseverant faith. Those who have strong faith in God do not believe in superstition and fortunetelling; and they do not try their luck. Those with strong faith are not in a hurry to go to a place where some people reported a miracle had occurred, but wait and see it verified.
Of course, we believe God has the power to work miracles. However, it is not that anyone who says a miracle has taken place, and then we have to believe. Today Jesus urged his disciples to use their little faith they already possessed in order to face their trials in life: If your faith was the size of a mustard seed, that is very small, you could say to this sycamore 'Be uprooted and planted to the sea' and it would obey you (Lk 17:6). This figure of speech may not be familiar with us today. However, it was very effective to use vivid terms of this figure of speech to convey to Jesus’ contemporary audience in Palestine the power of faith. Those with strong faith could do similar things. For instance, Simon Peter obeyed Jesus to walk on the water. He began to sink only when he began to doubt.
To believe means to accept ourselves, to accept our human conditions and our limitations with obstacles and problems, which we did not expect. Did you ever feel as if God does not exist, when natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, earthquakes subsequently occurred bringing about loss of lives and destruction of properties? Did you ever feel as if God was absent or overslept when injustices and crimes: kidnappings, terrorist attacks were rampant in the world? If so, then you are not alone. Did you ever feel as if God did not care when you had to bear incurable diseases, when you were slandered without reason and without cause? If so, then you are not the only one. Did you ever feel as if God had abandoned you when you were betrayed by your close friend or by your loved one? If so, you have others to share your feelings.
That was the problem the Prophet Habakkuk faced. When Habakkuk complained to God about injustices and evils of his day and he cried out to God for help, God did not intervene at first. Eventually God did answer Habakkuk telling him: The just man shall live because of his faith (Hb 2:4). Saint Paul in his letter to Timothy reminds us to guard our faith and to be steadfast in keeping our baptismal promises (2 Tm 1:13). To believe in God is to be ready to do his will, to allow him to be in charge of our lives and to seek his glory. However, in reality, we tend to live our faith according to a quid pro quo - give and take dealing. That was the way when we bargained with God like when we say to God: Oh God, if I serve you, if I worship you, if I go to church, if I do this or that for you, what shall I get back from you? The gentiles in the Roman Empire prayed to their gods in that way of bargaining: do ut des.
However, in our relationship with God, we cannot operate on that mean bargain of quid pro quo. If parents do not like that kind of bargain from their children when they do something for them, then God does not like that kind of bargain from us either. Parents who persuade their children to do things in order to get a reward, is possible that later on their children might bargain with God when they do worship and service.
When we bargain with God for a cheap price to be his disciples, we cannot expect God to transform our life. If we live our faith fully, then when we worship God or serve his people, we should not think that we are doing a favor to God, but only think we are doing our duty of a filial son or daughter as Jesus told his disciples: We have done what we are obliged to do. (Lk 17:10). To get credit and to lay down conditions are the way outsiders deal with one another. For a filial son and daughter in God’s family, then no need for bargain, no need for condition is necessary. If a human father loves and provides for his filial son, then God also takes good care of those who are filial and generous.
Saint Peter once said to Jesus: We have left all we own to become your followers (Lk 18: 28). Peter’s statement was not a bargain with Jesus, because the apostles had already followed Jesus without condition. Peter only mentioned a fact when hearing Jesus told a young rich man to sell his property in order to follow him. Then Jesus acknowledged Peter’s efforts and sacrifices: No one who has left home or wife or brothers, parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, will not receive a plentiful return in this age and life everlasting in the age to come (Lk 18:29-30).
Prayer for an increase of faith:
Oh Lord God, we thank you
for the gift of faith we received at baptism
through our parents and Godparents.
Forgive me for the times I have considered it for granted,
for the times I have fulfilled my duty in a mechanical way
and in a routine fashion.
When I face my crisis of faith,
help me to overcome my trials.
When darkness covers my mind and heart,
shine your hallo over me
as to walk in your light. Amen.
John Tran Binh Trong