Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary time (October 6, 2019)
There is the story of the Irish woman, Deirdre, who looked out of her window after reading about faith moving a tree in Luke’s Gospel and a mountain in Matthew’s gospel. She saw in the distance the mountains of Mourne shouldering their way down to the sea. She decided to “give it a try.” She scrunched her eyes shut and spoke intently with God, seeing if she could get the mountains to move. After a minute, she wide-opened her eyes - everything was right where it had been before. She said: “I nivir taut he would do it!”
Today’s Gospel cannot be understood without reading the preceding verses. Jesus had just called his followers to forgive seven times. That is the context that needs to be understood. Vindictive revenge was the cultural norm of that time and, unfortunately, for some in our own day. To them, forgiveness seems like nonsense. There’s little wonder, then, they would ask for more faith to accept the teaching on forgiveness.
The Apostles indicate that they have faith, but need a booster or, as they say, an “increase.” Jesus’ response stunned them. It’s not the quantity of faith, but the quality that needs to change. A tiny bit, like a mustard seed, is enough to achieve the spectacular. They need an attitude adjustment to use the faith that they already have.
Perhaps we can learn from Jesus. Our effort to do such difficult things as forgive is never “enough;” we need to be open to God’s initiating call and respond to it. Doing the difficult “things” of following Jesus is not solely about our effort o our action - we act in union with God’s activity.
Our faith and god’s grace interact for us to grow. The good that we do is as much the fruit of god’s grace as it is our effort. We do the good things of the kingdom the same way that we pray: “through him, with him, in him.” humanity and divinity work together to bring about both our growth and the building of the kingdom! The magnitude of moving a tree or a mountain speaks to the magnitude of what god can do with us. Let’s not pat ourselves on the back as though we did it all by ourselves.
Jesus’ parable requires us to put on our first century cultural ears. If we do not, we do not get it. In that day, slavery was a common and accepted practice. It was only later that civilization evolved to the point that we realized that slavery was evil - the parable has nothing to say about the morality of slavery. Jesus simply draws a lesson from their experience of slavery. Like slaves who did what is expected of them, we are to forgive without question.
Who of us does not need more confidence in our divine partnership? I think that the vitality of our confidence is rooted in self-discernment. Some questions may be helpful. What talents do I have? With what personal accomplishments am I pleased? On what do people compliment me? Yes, this is profiling – but some profiling, as it turns out, may actually be good! And it is helpful in discerning how we can progress in our personal faith and help others more creatively.
The self-discernment and self-identification of our talents provides the self-confidence to respond in faith to the inspirations that come to us in times of our God-awareness or from the suggestions of others.
We cannot wait for some sensed, divine empowerment that comes to us while tripping through the dewy grass in our bare feet. We recall that the Lord did not come in a powerful wind or in a lightning strike. The Lord came then - and comes now - in a whisper. This self-discernment is a hearing aide for the whisper that inspires you and me to work in our partnership with our Lord in both our personal, spiritual health and in the building of the kingdom.