Luke 17:5-10, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
People who know me well also know that there was a particular stretch in my life when I served as my parent’s quote-unquote “marriage counselor”. Even as a little child, I’d know dad and mom fought again because they’d be killing each other with silence. So when I was old enough, namely, high school, I took it upon myself to step in because, one, nothing terrifies a child more than losing his parents to separation, and (2) their silence drove me nuts!
Things came to a head this one time when mom got wind of the rumor that dad was having an affair, which I also discovered quite serendipitously. My world came crashing down all around me. I remember sitting on the stairs with my crying mom and finally telling her, “I don’t trust dad anymore, mom.” Weeks after that, I received a long letter from dad. I don’t remember now 99% of what he said. I remember one line: “Anak, there’s nothing worse than a father knowing that his son doesn’t trust him anymore. I’m sorry, anak. I will try my best to be better.” And he did. He & mom tried to be better after that.
I consider myself fortunate that mom and dad sent me to a school where neither priests nor religion teachers used scare tactics on us to teach us about faith in God. I don’t remember ever being told, “You must have strong faith in God, otherwise, you’ll go to hell. You must never lose faith in God or you will go to hell. You must always pray to God & go to confession all the time, because if you die with sin, you will go to hell.” To this day, there are schools where religion is still taught like that. I know because I often hear confessions before my regular noon mass at the college every week. Many times, there’d be 1 or 2 young men who’d come, obsessing about hell, and worse, compulsively terrified of God.
And I think about my dad whose one great terror is his son losing faith in him. Which makes me think about God who, even when we do lose our faith in him, does not stop being Father to us anyway. Oh, yes, our faith in God waxes and wanes, hems and haws, ebbs and flows—yet not for one second has our Father shut off the steady stream of grace into our life. Even agnostics, atheists, and even God-haters—even they continue to enjoy God’s grace. They’re just either too proud to admit it, or too hurt by people such that their loss of confidence in people leaks out onto disbelief in God. But the God who is dead to them doesn’t stop sustaining them and keeping them going. Isn’t that strange?
When his disciples ask, “Increase our faith,” the Lord has an unusual answer. “You could uproot a whole tree with a faith as tiny as a mustard seed!” But look back at the Lord’s life and we will slowly, gently understand just what he means by that: when, with just 5 pieces of bread and 2 fish, he feeds 5000; when, with a little dirt and spit, he makes a blind man see; when, a quivering, fearful touch on the hem of his cloak makes enough power come out of him to heal a woman’s years-long hemorrhage; or when with three hesitant “Yes, Lord, I love you’s,” he forgave Peter his three denials—all showing us that our Father is so deeply good, so incredibly humble that the little we could give him, the pittance that we even hesitate to offer—he’ll take it! He’ll work with it, he’ll work on it—and he’ll keep us going and going beyond what we could ever offer him, in spite of the little we could offer him. In fact, even when we are running empty on faith, God keeps us going. So I figure, maybe, like my dad, God must be “desperate” to keep us believing in him. He’s not afraid for himself if we don’t trust him; our faith in him adds nothing to his God-ness, he has everything already, he is God. But our loss of faith in him diminishes us. It weakens our sense of hope. It consumes our interior peace. It drives us our relationships to be contentious and then cold. When we disbelieve in the Higher Power, in God, in Allah, in Adonai—by whatever name we call him—when we lose our faith, we lose out. And what good Father would allow his children to put themselves through that? That’s why with the little mustard seed of faith we carry to offer God, he has moved mountains with it. I hope we’re humble enough to admit that. I hope we’re grateful enough to care.
You and I have always believed that “increasing in faith” or “growing in faith” means to be more and more like servants to our Master, to put ourselves more & more fully subject to “the Master’s disposal,” we say, right? But you know what, dear sisters and brothers, the older I get, I seem to have this growing sense—and this might sound scandalous to some of you—this sense that it has been the Master who constantly puts himself at our disposal—God always caring for us, nourishing us, and loving us much more tremendously than the little we could offer him, if at all. Sisters and brothers, we are lost without our Master. Maybe that’s why the Master must be also be “terrified” of losing us.