Faith and Duty

Posted in: Homilies

October 2, 2016 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

October 2, 2016
Luke 17:5-10
Fr. George Smiga

Do you think more people would believe in Jesus if we could move mulberry trees? Jesus says in today’s gospel, “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea’, and it would obey you.” Now if we could do that do you think more people would become Christian? If we could say to people, “I know you don’t have any religious faith but watch this. . .” and immediately a tree would go flying into the sea. Would they believe then? They might.

But they would certainly believe if we were able to say, “My spouse has cancer, and it’s killing the both of us. But I have faith. So I say, ‘Be healed.’” And the cancer would disappear.” Or if we could say, “My son always struggles with self-worth and it hurts me. But I have faith. So I’m going to say, ‘Change.’” And suddenly he becomes a confident and happy person.” Or if we could say, “Our country is divided because of racial differences, and it’s not good for us. But I have faith. So I say, ‘Unite!’” And suddenly racism disappears from our shores. If we could make those kinds of commands and see them immediately followed, who wouldn’t believe?

But you and I know that faith does not work that way. Faith does not give us some magical formula by which we can bring about the good things we want in our lives. So why does Jesus talk to us about mulberry trees? Jesus uses vivid language to seize our attention and to make a point. The point he’s trying to make with the flying mulberry tree is that faith is real—faith can make a difference in our lives. You see, the image is not meant to convert people to faith in Jesus. It is intended for us who already believe to assure us that our faith in him is not wasted. If we have faith, even faith the size of a mustard seed, it can change things.

Now, faith of course is surrender. It is handing over to God our entire lives and all of our needs. It is a surrender that acknowledges that when we give our lives to God, God will not in some magical way give us all that we want. But when we do hand over the people that we love to God’s care, when we do surrender the needs of our lives, that action of faith is real, as real as uprooting a mulberry tree from the ground.

Once we surrender ourselves to God in faith, then the gospel tells us to do our job. That is why after the saying about the mulberry tree in today’s gospel we hear a series of sayings about being servants. Because, once we have placed the people we love in God’s care, once we have surrendered ourselves to God’s love, then we should do what we are expected to do.

The pattern then that comes from today’s gospel is faith and duty. Once we have handed over our spouse and the cancer to the Lord, then we do our duty and live as a spouse who is encouraging, supporting, and loving. Once we surrender our son and his poor self-confidence to God, then we do our duty to be the best parent we can be. Once we tell God how much the racial divisions of our country disturb us and need to change, then we do our duty as a citizen. We try to elect officials and support programs that promote unity, and understanding, and peace.

The pattern of today’s gospel is faith and duty. It asks us to surrender the people we love and all of our needs to God’s care, and then do our job. This gospel assures us that our faith in God’s power can make a difference. We cannot move mulberry trees. But God can. So, does it not make sense to trust that God’s power in our life is real?

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