27th Sunday of the ordinary time C (6-10-2019)
First Reading: Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 95: 1-2, 6-7, 8-9 (8)
Second Reading: Second Timothy 1: 6-8, 13-14
Gospel: Luke 17: 5-10
And the apostles said to the Lord: Increase our faith.
And the Lord said: If you had faith like to a grain of mustard seed, you might say to this mulberry tree. Be thou rooted up, and be thou transplanted into the sea: and it would obey you.
But which of you having a servant ploughing, or feeding cattle, will say to him, when he is come from the field: Immediately go, sit down to meat:
And will not rather say to him: Make ready my supper, and gird thyself, and serve me, whilst I eat and drink, and afterwards thou shalt eat and drink?
Doth he thank that servant, for doing the things which he commanded him?
I think not. So, you also, when you shall have done all these things that are commanded you, say: We are unprofitable servants; we have done that which we ought to do.
Reflexion: The Gospel of this Sunday falls into two rather different parts. In the first, the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith – seemingly in reaction to the very demanding teaching he has just been giving about forgiveness. His response does not imply that the disciples have no faith. Rather, the little faith they have is enough to work outstanding miracles if only they exploited its possibilities to the full.
As so often is the case in Jesus’ teaching, the imagery is exaggerated: the mustard seed is notoriously small; mulberry trees were not only large, their extensive root system made the difficulty of uprooting them a byword. Likewise, the idea of a tree ‘planted’ in the sea is over the top. Jesus indulges in hyperbole to make his point: to take the risk of faith is to clothe oneself with the power of God. It is people of faith who let God’s power in the world.
The second part of the Gospel comes close, as I mentioned above, to the attitude towards God that Paul saw supported in the text from Habakkuk. We might find off-putting not only the image Jesus takes from the practice – widespread at the time – of slavery but also the actual content of what he says. Does God really regard us as ‘worthless slaves’, who deserve no gratitude whatsoever? [We should keep in mind here the rather opposite direction of a very similar image in 12:37, where the master who finds his servants watching when he returns actually does sit them down and waits upon them.] Fundamental attitude
Once again, Jesus is making a point from an aspect of life familiar to his audience without necessarily approving or disapproving the practice itself. We ought not press all the details of the image but rather pick up the single point it makes concerning the fundamental attitude that disciples of Jesus should adopt in their service of the Lord. We do not serve in the hope of gaining payment or reward coming to us as our due. That would be the kind of ‘works’ mentality that Paul excluded.
Rather, conscious, through faith, of the immense benefits we have received from God’s grace long before any good work or virtuous action on our part, our Christian service must primarily be an expression of faith and be motivated by abiding gratitude for all God has already done for us. The God revealed by Jesus will not deal with us on an ‘employer-employee’ basis, as though we could or needed to earn approval.
The complete picture emerging from these readings, including Paul’s advice to Timothy in the Second (2 Tim 1:6-8, 13-14), is that of a God to whose power, faithfulness and superabundant generosity faith can commit itself absolutely.