October 2, 2022 at Saint Agnes, St William, & St. Peter Parishes in Naples, FL
Habakkuk 1, 2-3, 3, 2-4 + Psalm 95 + 2 Timothy 1,6-8 13-14 + Luke 17:5-10
There is quite a complicated set of images in this Gospel. The disciples beg Jesus to increase their faith, because they have just begun to realize what he expects of them. Then, he calms them down just a little with that mustard seed image suggesting that they need not think the task is really too great for them. Just a little something will get it all started. Then he comes up with that parable to suggest that just because they have done that little bit it will be over and that will be enough. In the words of the parable, “When you have finished in the fields and brought in the sheep, don’t think you’re done. Get to the kitchen and dining room and serve up the dinner.”
As Jesus speaks to us in here today, he is reminding us that it is easy to be a fake follower of Christ. It’s easy to think that all we have to do is show up for Mass, sing, listen, go to communion, through in an envelope or some lose change, and maybe stay till the closing hymn, and we’re in. We look like good disciples and people going by will see the parking lot and think, “Wow, look at all those good Catholics”. But this gospel says, “No” to that. After you’ve done all those things every weekend, there is more to do because discipleship requires action and conversion and the engagement of mind and heart. It’s what we do because we have been at Mass in communion, listening to God’s Word that makes us real disciples. There is nothing fake about action or service in the name of Christ.
However, herein lies the problem that brings the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees. They are all about action – about keeping the law and the traditions of Israel, but they do that without faith thinking that just doing things is all that is required. Jesus points out on more than one occasion that doing the right without the right interior transformation becomes a parody of righteousness. It’s a joke. It’s a lie. Doing the right thing because you are worried about what someone else might think or say is the wrong thing. The laws and traditions of Israel existed for one reason: to give glory to the God on whom one had set their heart. Without that action of the heart, righteous activity serves only one purpose to glory to the one doing the action.
My friends, discipleship is what we were created for, and the Gospel is our instruction book on how to be what God created us to be. When we choose to follow Jesus Christ, we choose an active life that can feel very new and different, but it isn’t. It is a restoration of the life for which we were originally made.
This Gospel today must both restore our hope and renew our courage to never give up in the face of what is asked of us and what we see is needed all around us. Like the apostles, we might well cry out: “Increase our Faith.” The image of that mustard seed must stay with us trusting that God will bless and multiply our efforts.
We look around and sense the political despair that is everywhere. Because of that despair what happens? People don’t vote, and so unqualified candidates win close elections and legislate poor public policy. But, one grieving mother loses a child to a drunk driver and starts a national coalition of mother mothers again drunk driving called; “MADD”. A Swedish girl calls for a student strike to protest in action on climate change, and millions of young people support her worldwide. A little lady in Calcutta decides that no one should die alone, and a world-wide community of sisters is born to comfort the dying poor. A young boy out in the wilderness gives up his lunch of two fish and some bread. What happens? 5000 people get fed.
What we have here is summed up in Paul’s letter to Timothy which we just heard: “Stir into flame the gift God gave you” Remember those days when the vision of faith set your heart on fire and understand that glowing embers are still all we need to get the fire burning once again. In the opening prayer I offered in the name of this assembly, I said and I meant, “God, never fail to stir up our faith so that its power become visible in our lives.” Someone planted the seed of faith in every one of our heats. It is yearning to sprout anew in this world. Jesus believed that. So can we.