Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, 2019.
The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” Our Lord’s response to them, “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed” tells us these apostles had little or no active faith, at least at this point in the narrative from Saint Luke. They were certainly filled with an active and robust faith after the event of Our Lord’s Pascal Mystery—His blessed Passion and precious Death, His mighty Resurrection and glorious Ascension—so much so that from the first day of the Church, the Coming of the Holy Ghost on Pentecost and the nature of Prayer was revealed—one of the dimensions of Christian Prayer from the first was holding steadfastly to the apostles teaching and fellowship, along with breaking bread and daily Office services. So knowing that the apostles were, by the end, so robust in their faith that they offered their lives to Christ, embodying Saint Paul’s teaching of being a living sacrifice—offering their souls and bodies, an example so strong that it entered into our liturgy at the Altar—we can give clear witness and our open, loving hearts to not the end of the story of the apostles’ and their journey into faith, but here in the middle—when their faith was smaller than the small seed of the mustard bush.
How does our Lord respond to this situation? He certainly does not sugar-coat His message—“If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed (not even the whole seed, but a portion of it), you could say to this sycamine tree (which is a kind of mulberry bush), ‘Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Quite a teaching! He believes in them, despite their little faith. He knows they are capable of great and wondrous things through His grace, despite their little faith at present. So his teaching is direct, yet filled with love and hope. There is in the teaching a seed of empowerment that would germinate after Pentecost when the apostolic Church remembered these and other teachings of Jesus, and saw them in the full light of the revelation of Christ.
And why, at this moment in the narrative, are they of little faith? We are not told directly, but the strong hint is that they were feeling deflated, and unable to live up to the high calling of following in the example of Jesus, unable to be as forgiving to others as Jesus would have them be. This is because directly preceding our Lesson is the teaching by Jesus that “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him; and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” It is to that high calling that the apostles cry out, “Increase our faith!” And who can blame them?
Later in our Lesson Jesus teaches them, in effect the words of our Psalm: they need to put their trust in the Lord and do good—they need to be more humble and be able to say, “We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.” And while the Christian life that seeks to delight in God’s will and walk in God’s ways is rich and varied—for Our Lord came not to be served, but to serve; and furthermore Jesus will later teach to these same disciples, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends”—nonetheless within this rich and varied life of discipleship, there is a place for being a good soldier. There is a place for simply doing what we are told. There is a place for carrying our the orders of our Mission General, Jesus of Nazareth.
Brothers and sisters, Our Lord is teaching us that we will know Him in our humility. He is teaching us that we will know Him as we forgive those who trespass against us—indeed that when we forgive the sins of others, we will know forgiveness of our sins. We will know the relief of the removal of separation between ourselves and God’s mercy and peace. It takes faith to forgive trespasses against us. And yet, the more we forgive, the Church teaches us, the more our faith grows.