The 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – (2 October 2022)
Lectionary Readings: Habakkuk 1:2-3. 2:2-4 Ps 95:1-2. 6-9; 2 Tim 1:6-8.13-14; Lk 17:5-10
Theme: “If you had faith…”
This gospel presents us with an extraordinary image—a tree uprooted from the earth and sent flying into the sea – powered only by the command of a follower of Jesus whose faith is no larger than a grain of mustard seed. To people familiar with mulberry trees, the image would be even more startling, as they are of a good size and have “an extensive root system” which would make wrenching one out of the earth no easy task. (Byrne, 139) This startling image is intended to evoke a powerful response. In his commentary on this passage John Calvin wrote: “It is a hyperbolical mode of expression, no doubt, when he declares that faith removes trees and mountains; but the meaning amounts to this, that God will never forsake us, if we keep the door open for receiving his grace.” In his commentary on the apostles’ request that Jesus increase their faith, Brendan Bryne writes: “His response does not imply that the disciples have no faith but that the little faith they have … is enough to work outstanding miracles if only they exploit its possibilities to the full. To take the risk of faith seriously is to clothe oneself with the power of God.” (139) Having quoted Calvin and a Jesuit, I’ll round things off with a quote from R. F. Capon, an Episcopalian: “The apostles ask for more faith; Jesus tells them that if they had even less than they had now (faith ‘like a mustard seed’ has got to be very little faith) the preposterous and the impossible would seem as easy as pie and as sensible as shoes. He tells them in other words, that even when it comes to faith they don’t have to be winners.” (Capon, 320)
The lord gives us so much in return for the little we offer! While it is no wonder that the parable of the mustard seed is so beloved, the three verses that follow are not so appealing and are quoted far less often. We are asked to think of ourselves as enslaved persons, not given so much as a word of thanks for all our hard work. This is as it should be, according to Capon. Why should we be thanked for doing our job as followers of Jesus? In Canada, it is not uncommon to hear someone who has been thanked dismiss the thanks politely with the reply “I was just doing my job.” (I assume this occurs in other countries as well.) But Capon suggests that we should not expect thanks from Jesus for our virtuous, hard-working lives, because we have been making a job out of being good and feeling satisfied with ourselves for doing so. We have given ourselves our own reward – our self-approval.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. What has been your experience of keeping the door open to receive the lord’s grace? Or your experience of doing more than you thought possible because of the lord’s help? 2. In many countries today we are encouraged to work hard at making ourselves ‘’better persons” – whether by losing weight, learning another language, taking up a new hobby, etc. How have you or people you know been affected by this emphasis on ‘self-improvement’?
Bibliography: Byrne, Brendan. The Hospitality of God: A Reading of Luke’s Gospel (Collegeville MN: 2000); Calvin, John, commentary on Matthew 17:19-21, Mark 9:28-29, Luke 17:5-6, www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom32/calcom32.ii.lvii.html ; Capon, Robert Farrar, “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus(Grand Rapids MI/Cambridge UK:2002)
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Anne Morton, Canada, Bat Kol Alumna: 2010