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A Little Can Go A Long Way

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4
Response: Ps 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
Second Reading: 2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14
Gospel: Lk 17:5-10

"Lord, give me strength... a little patience is all I ask... give me faith."

I find myself praying this little prayer quite often during my daily routine. Whether it's the driver behind me who insists upon accelerating, knowing full well that I intend to make a turn, or clients who just "don't seem to get it," or people who continually seem to make the same mistakes over and over again... I am constantly praying for assistance to cope.  We all share these same foibles, and some of us can react to life's little aggravations better than others.

But we also live in chaotic times, in a broken world. I, like many, find myself whispering those same words every time I read the daily newspaper, turn on the television news or lisen to the world report on the radio as sit in daily traffic.  We are bombarded on all sides with scenes of suffering, starvation, oppression, violence against our children, plagues like AIDS, and inhumanity in places like Zimbabwe, Dafur, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, Guatemala - even here at at home.  There is a hunger in the human mind and heart for certainty in every aspect of life. We want to be safe: we want to be secure. We want to be able to do something to enable a change, a shift in the suffering that we experience.

In the midst of this day-by-day struggle we yearn to find God and to come to know Him better.  We want to understand how the promise of God's love fits into all of this; and we cry out like the disciples:  "Lord, increase our faith."  At times life can seem somewhat overwhelming. 

The apostles in today's gospel voice their sense of urgent need to Jesus.  It takes enormous faith to live Jesus' teachings and face the demands of discipleship - the demands of simple service to others, or that of reconciling and forgiving.  A disciple can easily feel inadequate.  He or she wants more faith so that they can be the kind of disciples Jesus is teaching them to be. Their plea is also ours.

But Jesus shifts our attention away from thinking about quantity to considering the quality of the faith we already have.  Faith, he implies, is not something that we can have more or less of. If we have faith the size of a mustard seed - the tiniest seed of all - we can move mountains.  This is not a rebuke by Jesus; it is a gentle reminder of what we have already received as gift.

Faith, it seems, doesn't have to increase - as much as exist.  Having faith doesn't automatically give the believer the power to perform crowd-pleasing spectacles or life-saving miracles. But faith does mean that we are in touch with God and experience God as the source of that energy which enables us to live good lives, marked by the ability to forgive - as we ourselves have been forgiven; to reach out to one another - as we ourselves have been found and embraced by God. 

Even a tiny bit of faith can be very powerful and requires appropriate action.  If we wait around for some imagined heroic faith, we are liable to do just that: wait and do nothing.  The Lord gently urges us to forget about how much faith we think we need or feel we have. We are to act on the faith we already have. With even just a little faith, we disciples could accomplish great things. 

The parable Jesus tells is about a very hard working servant who does what he or she is supposed to do. Disciples, equipped with "mustard seed faith" must set about doing the sometimes very hard work that our faith urges us to do.  All thoughts of reward or acknowledgment are to be put aside as distractions from the task at hand.  We can easily get side-tracked from doing what needs to be done, if we place too much emphasis on our abilities, or own reputations or the rate of success we have in accomplishing great projects.  If we think we are so very important for what we have done, Jesus' sobering reminder should set us straight, "When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants, we have only done what we were obliged to do.'"

However, we are not just useless or unprofitable servants;  we are not just tools in God's hands, we are not merely instruments to accomplish the work that needs to be done.  In reality, as disciples we accomplish a lot, sometimes immediately, but mostly over a lifetime of daily service and seeming insignificant labors.  The parable of the servant reminds us to keep things in focus. 

In a culture that is increasingly more fragmented and torn apart, giving ourselves over into His hands, learning to follow Christ, to find God in our daily lives and to truly live the life of discipleship is no easy feat. It is only when we allow our own weaknesses and ordinariness to be transformed by the hand of God, only when we take our "mustard-seen faith" back into our day-to-day struggles that we will be able to enter into the grace-filled living to which people of every age have been called.

I'm sure I will continue to mutter my same little prayer tomorrow as I begin my day in stalled traffic; but if I"m lucky, I might remember that we are all far from perfect, and are rather consistently plagued by failure and selfishness. We are much too easily hurt, too easily discouraged. We fall short of expectations; we display our frailty like open wounds.

Yet despite this, the Lord has confidently chosen us to complete His work.



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