27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 1st/2nd, 2022 – Lk 17:5-10
Dear brothers and sisters, today the Church presents us with the words of Our Lord regarding the importance of having faith, and not just any sort of faith, but rather a faith that really believes and puts that belief into action.
We can divide today’s Gospel into three parts: first, the request of the apostles, second, Jesus’ reply regarding faith, and, third, the example of the servant.
The Gospel begins with a question, a request, from the Apostles: “Increase our faith.” It’s worth recalling that just before this question, Jesus had spoken to them about the need to forgive: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.” To this command, the Apostles ask for an increase in faith because, as we know, it’s not easy to forgive: we naturally want revenge, and, in order to forgive, we need grace, especially that faith which makes us able to love God above all things and to desire with all our hearts the salvation of our brothers and sisters, even in spite of their defects and their sins against us.
Nevertheless, to that question, Jesus gives an interesting reply: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to [this] mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” In this little phrase, Jesus teaches us some very important truths. First, our faith depends in part on God, but in part on us. It is a grace to have faith, and, since it’s a grace, it depends on God. So, on one hand, we need to ask for this grace through prayer, making our own the words of the father in Mark’s Gospel: “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
Nevertheless, as with all graces, it also depends on us, not in the sense that we can cause faith, but in the sense that we can dispose ourselves to receive it and increase it. Many times when we say that we don’t have faith, what we mean to say is that we don’t trust in God. We don’t believe in what He tells us through the prophet Jeremiah: “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (29:11). We don’t trust, and if we don’t trust, it is because either we don’t know God well enough or we don’t love Him. I can’t trust a person who I don’t know, and I can’t trust in a person whom I don’t love or whom I’m not convinced love me and wants the best for me. Hence, we need to return time and again to the Bible, to prayer, and to the writings of the saints in order to know God better and better so as to be able to trust more and more in Him. We must also cultivate an attitude of trust in God’s providence, meaning, that God knows everything that I need, even before I ask for it, and that He desires my salvation so much, even more than I do, so that He has everything planned so that I can get to heaven if I accept what He sends my way. But, how easy it is to complain and get angry when things don’t go the way I want or the way I had planned! If we can trust, even just a little, like a mustard seed, He will do that rest. However, we’ve got to give Him space to work.
Jesus also tells us that faith can work miracles, and He says it with the example of the mulberry tree uprooted and planted in the sea. Some doctors of the Church say that, with this example, Jesus is referring to sin, which many times is planted in our hearts, and it is only by faith and grace that we can uproot it. In other words, the conversion of a sinner is a miracle. Indeed, we can think of any miracle at all. Blessed Michael Sopocko, Saint Faustina’s spiritual director, wrote that “Confidence in God works miracles, since it has God’s omnipotence at its disposal.” “Confidence in God works miracles, since it has God’s omnipotence at its disposal.” When we trust in God, there are no limits to what He can do in and for us. But, as Jesus says, how little we trust!
Third, Jesus gives us the example of a servant. In the original Greek, there is a little word that begins the example, δέ, which means “but” or “nonetheless.” In other words, Jesus has changed His tone. He was speaking of great miracles and extraordinary graces, but most of us have never seen a tree uproot itself and plant itself in the sea. Perhaps we’ve seen something miraculous like that, and perhaps not. So, after having presented the extraordinary side of the faith, now Jesus comes to speak about the ordinary side of the faith.
In the parable, the servant is working, doing whatever it is he had to do, be it harvesting the crops, caring for the animals, or the like. In that time, many families, even ones that weren’t rich, had a servant whose job was to help with the domestic chores and labor. When the master came in, it wasn’t time for a party, but rather the time to keep working. Later there will come a time to eat and rest.
We are like that now, in this life: we are in the moment of working for the Kingdom of God. It is not the time to rest, but rather to fight. Our response must be: “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” Another way of translating “unprofitable” would be “unneeded,” or, even better, “Nobody owes us anything.” In the case of the servant, everything he has or needs is from the master; he works for him, and everything comes from him.
With this example, one thing we can learn is that Jesus wants to tell us that often we will not have the joy of seeing huge miracles. Nevertheless, our daily faith tells that that everything that we have is a gift from God. There are two ways of looking at the world: one is to look at it as though nothing were a miracle, and the other is to see everything as a miracle and a grace. To not see the effects of our prayers or to not see impressive miracles might shake our confidence in God, to lead us to believe that He isn’t caring for us. However, now is not the time to receive the reward for our labors and our faith; it is the time to work and to believe. We must wait and trust, as we heard in the first reading: “The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.” We must put into practice the advice that Jesus gave Saint Margaret Mary: “Look after My concerns, and I will look after yours.” “Look after My concerns, and I will look after yours.”
Today, then, let us ask, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of Faith, for the grace of a pure and untarnished faith in our God, so that we might reach heaven as servants of our heavenly Master.
 See, for instance, Strong’s concordance: “Universally, by way of opposition and distinction; [δέ] is added to statements opposed to a preceding statement.”