Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading Habakkuk 1:2–3, 2:2–4
Psalm Psalm 95:1–2, 6–9
Second Reading 2 Timothy 1:6–8, 13–14
Gospel Luke 17:5–10
Psalm 95:1–2, 6–9
O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would listen to his voice!
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
Reading the Word
Habakkuk 1:2–3, 2:2–4
O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not save?
Why do you make me see wrongdoing
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention arise.
Then the Lord answered me and said:
Write the vision;
make it plain on tablets,
so that a runner may read it.
For there is still a vision for the appointed time;
it speaks of the end, and does not lie.
If it seems to tarry, wait for it;
it will surely come, it will not delay.
Look at the proud!
Their spirit is not right in them,
but the righteous live by their faith.
2 Timothy 1:6–8, 13–14
For this reason, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.
Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God,
Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” The Lord replied, “If you had 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.
“Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’ ”
Hearing the Word
“Living out the Faith”
Faith has many expressions and definitions. However, today’s liturgy teaches that true faith has one fundamental and universal feature – it affects real life, this means true faith must be lived out.
The prophet Habakkuk lived through a time of dramatic changes in the life of his nation. It all began with the long and very promising rule of a faithful and zealous king Josiah, who conducted a sweeping religious reform in the land of Judah. Sadly, this exemplary king unexpectedly lost his life in 609 BC, in a battle against the invading Egyptians. The land was then occupied, first by the Egyptians, and then by the Babylonians. Judah became an occupied territory and the Israelites were subjected to harsh foreign rule. These tragic events and foreign oppression led many faithful Israelites to question God and doubt God’s care and power. The troubling question arose: “why evil triumphs over good and how can a good and powerful God allow evil to prevail? Habakkuk, an eyewitness to these events, addresses these questions in today’s passage.
First the prophet expresses the doubts and questions of his people, raising a lament and crying, “how long” is God going to wait before saving his people and putting an end to violence against them. Then, asking “why do you make me see”, the prophet seeks to understand the reason why God made him live in those tragic times and to witness all this misery.
The second part of the reading delivers the much-needed answers, starting with the question about the prophet’s role in those tragic times. Habakkuk’s mission was to deliver God’s exhortations and answers to the questions raised by the people. The prophet was commanded to write them down and circulate them throughout the land. God’s answer is then revealed. It begins with an assurance that God’s saving intervention is sure to come at an appointed time. God does not stand idly by while his people hurt and disintegrate. Rather, “God has a vision” for the future, which means that history unfolds according to God’s design and purposes. This message assures the people that God is in control of events, and evil will not go unchecked forever.
The final verse contains instruction on how the people ought to react to their current, difficult circumstances by contrasting the proud and the righteous. The proud do not have the “right spirit”, while the righteous “live by faith”. The right spirit which the proud lack is, therefore, the disposition of faith maintained despite oppression, violence and personal doubt. The righteous person survives and lives through changing times by maintaining a steadfast commitment and trust in God, even if the circumstances severely challenge such responses. Thus, faith finds its expression in not giving up on God, and on hope no matter what.
The second reading contains Paul’s appeal to his coworker, Timothy. This young leader was entrusted with managing the community in Ephesus (cf. 1 Tim 1:3) where he faced numerous problems and challenges to his authority. Understandably, Timothy might have grown discouraged and disillusioned. Fully aware of the situation, his mentor, Paul, wrote to encourage and motivate him. First, in the verse immediately before our reading, Paul reminded Timothy about the steadfast faith of the women from whom he received it – his grandmother Lois and mother Eunice (2 Tim 1:5). Evoking the example of these two women, Paul asks Timothy to “rekindle” his apostolic zeal for the leadership mission. Paul formally entrusted him with this task of leadership by the laying on of hands, thus passing on the apostolic authority to his young coworker. Paul then continues his exhortation evoking his own example as a prisoner for the sake of the Gospel. Paul put his life on the line so that the good news could be heard, and he exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed of his Christian faith but to profess it openly, even when threatened with prosecution by the hostile Roman authorities. Finally, Timothy is asked to hold on to the sound and correct teaching he received from Paul. His role as a leader is to teach the correct Christian message even if it would be unpopular or rejected. Inspired by the example of his grandmother and his mother, and mentored by Paul, Timothy’s foremost duty is to persevere in the faith he received and to pass it on to the members of his community. He is to “live the faith” which has been entrusted to him, and lead others to it.
The Gospel passage features two distinct parts which jointly convey an important lesson on the practice of faith. First, the apostles ask Jesus to literally “add faith to us”. This request for an increase of faith means that they do not lack faith altogether, but consider their faith insufficient. Jesus’ answer shows them the way to make their faith increase. If they would only start using even the little faith that they already have, it would grow and eventually enable them to perform amazing deeds, the proverbial “moving of mountains”. Pairing the image of a tiny mustard seed and that of a mountain, Jesus creates a contrast which teaches that faith can grow from something tiny to a force that changes the world. Thus, he teaches the disciples that faith is not a property one can acquire, but an ability that needs to be developed by steadfast practice until it reaches its full potential.
Jesus proceeds then to show the apostles the way to apply their faith and thus make it grow – faithful and unassuming service. He described a situation which would be normal in any ancient wealthy household. There, house servants or slaves would be expected to perform their duties without expecting either gratitude or reward for their work. The servant was expected to work in the fields, and later to serve the table of the master. Doing so the servants fulfilled their obligations and responsibilities. Likewise, the disciples were called to serve God by their faithful adherence to Jesus and his teaching. They were brought to Jesus and this was their initial gift of faith. They ought to develop it by faithful service, considering themselves “worthless slaves”. The Greek phrase used here is better translated as “unprofitable servants”. This means that their work was not done in view of profit, recognition or gratitude. It was God’s work done by them in response to the initial gift of faith. The exercise of this faith and being God’s servant is in itself the reward.
True faith must always find reflection in real life. For Habakkuk living out his faith meant the courageous facing of doubts and threatening circumstances without losing trust in God and falling into hopeless resignation. For Timothy, living out his faith meant maintaining his apostolic zeal in the face of rejection and adversity. Jesus teaches that the disciples and all who come to him already have seeds of faith. They are then responsible for making that faith grow by giving it a real expression in life, particularly through service. Through living out his or her faith the believer can certainly reach that stage when they will be able to say confidently with the Psalmist, “he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture”.
Listening to the Word of God
The message of today’s liturgy could be summarized in a popular English saying which states that “faith moves mountains”. This saying developed undoubtedly in reference to Jesus’ words contained in today’s Gospel. However, our reflection clearly shows that, when speaking about the proverbial “moving mountains”, Jesus did not intend this statement to be taken literally. Jesus, like any good storyteller, used an exaggerated statement to emphasize the point he wished to make. He spoke to a group of people, his disciples, who were overwhelmed by what Jesus was doing. They thought that they could never match his deeds, his courage, and his commitment to God. Their request for an increase their faith came from these feelings of inferiority and self-doubt. Jesus knew that such feelings prevented them from putting the faith that they already into practice. By talking about moving mountains Jesus taught them, and us the lesson that if we start using the faith we already have we can accomplish what appears seemingly impossible. Jesus encourages us to have courage and confidence in our abilities and powers that can move us beyond our self-doubt and the disbelief which paralyzes us.
In many Christian communities, faith is linked with miracles. Allegedly, those with great faith can either perform miracles or benefit from miracles. However, the Bible and the story of Jesus teaches that miracles were never the primary purpose of faith. In his time on earth, Jesus and the disciples perform only few miracles. For Jesus, faith was primarily about shaping the daily lives of his followers. Led by faith Jesus journeyed towards Jerusalem to offer his life for the salvation of the world. Driven by faith Peter and the other apostles went out into the world preaching the Gospel day after day, and eventually laying down their own lives for it. They did not seek to heal every ill person or exorcise every demon. Rather, they used miracles to lead people to believe in Jesus and accept his teaching.
Faith’s primary role in the life of every Christian is to provide power and motivation to get us through our daily life in line with our Christian commitments. Thus, whenever we are tempted to abandon hope, and to despair of God’s presence in our life, faith leads us to stand firm in our belief. Whenever we are tempted to do something that goes against Jesus’ teaching, our faith provides the strength to resist this temptation and make the right choice. Whenever we pass by a person in need and do not want to show any concern, faith makes us extend a helping hand. Whenever we are in conflict with a person who does not like us, our faith expresses itself in not acting against that person, but in making steps towards reconciliation, or, at least, not acting with vengeance. These are the kinds of miracles that Jesus was referring to when he spoke of moving mountains.
Life with all its challenges and insecurity often feels like a mountain upon our shoulders, a burden that threatens to crush us. It is then that we need true faith. Jesus does not expect us to exorcise daemons, heal the sick, or raise the dead. These are the kind of miracles that initially impress, but are soon forgotten. Let us remember that the same people who saw Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, some days later cried to Pilate, “crucify him”. Paraphrasing what Jesus said in today’s Gospel, we could say that Jesus wants us to move the mountain of life by the everyday small acts of faith.
“Little by little the bird builds its nest.”
What are the areas in my life when I experience most self-doubt? Why?
How do I express my faith in daily life, outside the Church I attend?
Response to God
I will pray with thanksgiving for those who taught me my faith, and ask that I might lead others to live out their faith.
Response to your World
In the moments of self-doubt and resignation I will recall Jesus’ saying about moving mountains and face the challenges by calling on the faith which I already have to meet them.
What can we do to live our faith in a more visible way? We will discuss it in terms of doing small and ordinary actions that will affect our daily living.
Lord Jesus, make our faith and confidence grow through your presence and by the power of your Holy Spirit. May we be ever more like you, journeying through life courageously, carrying our burdens without ever losing hope and confidence. Amen.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.