Saturday, October 1, 2016

Twenty Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Cycle C

Welcome to read homilies for the Sundays of the year. These are sample homilies which you can read with devotion. You may use them in your own homilies without asking my permission. You may also change or edit these to fit them to your audience. A unique quality of these homilies is that they are Christ-filled. From beginning to end they present to us some aspect of Jesus so that beholding his glory we “are being transformed from glory to glory into his very image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NAB).

Faith That Uproots a Tree

We have heard about a faith that moves mountains. We have not so much as heard about a faith that uproots a tree. But our Gospel reading today talks about a faith which uproots a tree. We heard Jesus say in our Gospel, 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."

The faith that moves mountains is from Matthew's Gospel where Jesus says, "I assure you, if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would be able to say to this mountain 'Move from here to there'' and it would move. Nothing would be impossible for you." (17:20). This was echoed by Paul in his chapter on love. He wrote "if I have faith great enough to move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:2). This faith has been understood by many as moving or getting rid of huge obstacles or great difficulties in life, the mountain representing these obstacles or difficulties. There have been reports of literal, physical mountains moved by men who exercised great faith, following Jesus' statement. The most famous of these is about the Mokattam mountain moved by a certain St. Simon the Tanner to prove before a caliph or Muslim leader that Christianity was the true religion founded by Jesus. There is also a story about St. Gregory the Wonder Worker who moved a mountain to give place for a church building.

But we have no story of a tree being uprooted and planted in a sea by the faith of a person. Some scholars think that Luke here uses a story by Jesus about the mustard seed which represents faith in the Gospel of Mark which also talks about moving a mountain (11:22-23). Instead of choosing the mountain his version is about a tree, the sycamine tree which is a wild fig or mulberry in our lectionary.

But I think the Church wants us to learn about faith in this Gospel reading because this is also the topic in the first and second readings. Primarily this is the faith of Jesus. Only secondarily is it the faith of the apostles and our faith.

In the second reading we heard Paul's words to Timothy: "Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." We see here that faith and love are in Christ Jesus.

In the first reading we heard the prophet Habakkuk say "the just one, because of his faith, shall live." In the Acts of the Apostles Jesus is given the title "the Just One". As the just one He lived by faith, like us.

It is a little bit difficult for us to think that Jesus lived by faith because we have tended to view only his divinity. He was indeed a divine person but when he was on earth he was fully a man, completely like us but without sin, as the Letter to the Hebrews says (4:15).

In the third reading or the Gospel we heard the apostles asking Jesus, Increase our faith. The sense in the original words used "prosthes heymin" is "Give more to us" faith. It is as if the apostles said to Jesus, "We know you have plenty of faith, Jesus. Give us more of your faith".

Jesus did not reply, "Here, take more of my faith." But he said, 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 effect Jesus told the apostles, ‘There is no need for me to give you more of my faith. What is important is that you have real faith, even if it is as small as the seed of a mustard. If you have this living faith you can uproot a mulberry tree and plant it in the sea by just your word.'

Then Jesus proved to the apostles that they had this faith already. The succeeding parable shows this. If they had a servant, Jesus said, coming from work in the field, they would not say to this servant, Come here immediately and take your place at table. Rather they would say, Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished. If you can say this to your servant with full expectancy that your servant will follow your instruction you have this faith you need to uproot a tree. But having done so, say We are unprofitable servants; we have done only what we were obliged to do.

Jesus is telling us that faith is simply obedience to the word of God.

Now our question is, Why did the apostles request Jesus to increase their faith? This was because they found it impossible to do what Jesus required of them without great faith. In the preceding verse but which is not in our Gospel reading Jesus told them to forgive even seven times an offender who says to them "Sorry". The word seven here signifies many or all the time. The apostles, like most of us, found this repugnant to do, to forgive an offender who has sinned against us many times or all the time. So they asked for Jesus to give them more of his faith to forgive such an offender.

In plain language we would now say, You find this repugnant and difficult to do, to forgive your enemy who sins against you all the time? Just tell them that they are forgiven and they are forgiven. It will not be impossible for you. You have this faith to forgive if you obey Jesus' words. It is as simple as that.

There is a curious detail about this mulberry tree that Jesus said we can uproot and plant in the sea if we have faith. I got this curious detail not from a professional commentator of the Bible but from John Quintanilla, a kind of Christian business man in Texas, USA. This John said that the reason why Jesus chose this mulberry tree in his parable is because it illustrates the harm done by unforgiveness. First, this tree has deep roots which are hard to kill. Unforgiveness is like that, it bores deep into our souls, difficult to take out. Secondly, this tree was so common around the land of Jesus that people used it for coffin. This signifies that unforgiveness leads to spiritual death. Thirdly, according to Quintanilla the fruit of this tree is bitter. It can only be eaten bit by bit because of its bitterness. Unforgiveness eats away our souls bit by bit almost unnoticed by us. And fourthly, the fruit of this tree is pollinated only by being stung by a wasp. Unforgiveness stings our hearts and spreads the fruit of unforgiveness around us. More and more people become unforgiving.

Interesting detail, thanks to John Quintanilla of Texas. Back to our readings.

Our readings tell us that Jesus has faith. Jesus tells us that we have faith already if we can command and obey a command. Faith is simply obeying God's word. The famous Ralph Waldo Emerson has this very relevant statement from his essay on the spiritual laws. He wrote, "The whole course of things goes to teach us faith. We need only obey. There is guidance for each of us, and by lowly listening we shall hear the right word."

Let us pray. Lord Jesus, you tell us we have already the faith necessary to uproot unforgiveness in our life. Lead us to use this faith by the guidance of your Spirit. Right now we forgive all those who have hurt us. Amen.

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Note for the readers:

The Mass readings are from the New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). This is where our Lectionary gets the readings.

NAB stands for New American Bible (before it was revised). This is the translation I use. Unless otherwise stated the text I use is from this translation.

AV stands for Authorized Version of the Bible. It is more commonly referred to as the King James Bible. It is the version most used in English literature, therefore it is the one known more by the English speaking world.

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