TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR, C.
"INCREASE OUR FAITH" (Lk.17:5): BETWEEN AN ACTIVE AND AN ACTIVATED FAITH.
In today's readings, we are reminded that faith is not dormant, else it's no faith anymore. So, I don't want to talk about passive faith here because a passive faith is like a security dog that cannot bark. You know what it means that you get a dog to secure you and your house, then it ends up becoming a pet dog. No matter how sweet that pet dog is, it has lost its purpose. The same applies to faith; either it is active or no faith. Christ takes us deeper in today's gospel- faith has not only to be active but also activated. An active faith is good. It is faith enough to take you to heaven. The followers of Christ had active faith in the scriptures- the woman with hemorrhage, the Centurion servant, Timothy, at the time Paul was writing to him in the second reading, etc. Active faith believes enough, faith that acknowledges Jesus. The apostles had active faith. They saw Jesus perform miracles. They saw him raise the dead, heal the sick, cast out demons. They believed in the things he did when they followed him. But they didn't think they would be able to do the things as he did exactly. That's why they beckoned on him to increase their faith. The statement "increase our faith", implied that there was already some faith existing in the disciples. They only needed to grow their faith. They needed to do greater things than they think they were able to do at the time. "Increase our faith" means, "empower us the more". It means, "activate our faith".
In the gospel episode, Jesus responds by letting the disciples know that the problem is not about increasing their faith as much as it is activating their faith. He says, "If you had faith like a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea," and it would obey you". So a little faith can already work so much, only it has to be activated. Jesus goes on to explain to the disciples that those who come into the vineyard cannot just stand around and wait to be crowned with trophy or laurel. He uses the analogy of the man whose servant returns from ploughing or tending sheep to draw home the lesson of faith that has to be activated. Then he concludes, "So should it be with you. "When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants, we have done what we are obliged to do" (Lk.17:10). An activated faith transforms us into servants for the kingdom of heaven. It manifests in love, forgiveness, repentance, trust, no matter how tough the circumstance. An activated faith is faith in action. Peter and John's faith was activated when they healed the lame man at the Beautiful Gate. Paul's faith was activated when he went into the Gentile territory. Mary Magdalene's faith was activated when she encountered Jesus, then she went to the tomb.
The prophet Habakkuk takes us back to the question of evil and suffering. There are questions which we cannot answer as human beings, but which continue to play back in our encounters as Christians. Is it that God cannot prevent evil from happening? Habakkuk laments, "How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, "Violence!" But you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife and glamorous discord". These questions are not strange in today's world. To some, they may be personal or particular: things keep getting tough in your life despite your Christian belief. Sickness won't let you be. You achieve poor results despite your hard struggle.You find it difficult to get good job. You experience family crisis. You encounter disappointments from friends and relatives. Your children are troublesome. You suffer hatred and rejection. Such persons cry out like prophet Habakkuk, "How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen". I encountered a woman who lost her son just last week. She asked similar questions which unfortunately I didn't have answers to. I couldn't even imagine how that woman felt, and would be wrong to deny her feelings, simply devastated. "Why me?", was her question. "Why my son?", she beamed at me. "Is God still alive?" "Can't he bring my son back to life?" "Does he still want me to believe he exists?" Such are realities which only the sufferer can interpret in the face of troubles and suffering.
To others, these situations may apply to general circumstances of chaos that pervade today's society. Growing terrorism, incessant bombing of innocent citizens and individuals occur almost regularly nowadays. Abduction of persons take place. Shooting and reckless killing of innocent persons occur sporadically. Different countries of the world face bad leadership and crises. The masses lament like the city of Judah in Habakkuk's time. Amidst prayers and religious options, prophet Habakkuk wondered whether God was still in charge. We can also wonder whether God is still in charge in the face of wickedness of our time. Why destruction and violence? Why disaster and strife if God still listens? Now hear what God told the prophet Habakkuk, "Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late" (Hab.2:2-3). But the question is if that's true. How soon is it going to be? How long are we to wait in the midst of evil and suffering?
The answer to the questions above lies in having our faith in God activated. The prophet Habakkuk concludes his rhetoric by saying that the upright person will live through faithfulness. Saint Paul writes from a different background on the need to maintain a strong and firm faith. He reminds Timothy who was a bishop to fan his faith into flame. We need to fan our faith into flame, that is what it means to have an activated faith. Our trials and temptations are not going to be totally eliminated because we are believers in Christ. Of course, Christ didn't have his own eliminated. Our sicknesses, pains, failures, anxieties, disappointments, may not be eliminated. Death will not be eliminated because we are Christians. Only faith that is activated will transform the meaning of the sufferings and pains into glory. Saint Paul encourages us to bear hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. We need courage and trust to believe that all will be well with God. Although temptations and trials may beset us, an activated faith does not let frustration take the better part of us.
Like the disciples today, we may exclaim to Christ, "Increase our faith". It is an appeal not to increase just the quantity of faith but to increase the quality. It is an appeal to improve our consciousness of God's grace. It is an appeal to make us realize that we have powers, authority, strength that come from God and not from us. We need to recognize that faith has already been imbued in us at baptism, all we need is to fan it into flame. For us to fan our faith into flame, we need to believe absolutely and not just relax. We need constant prayers. We need constant commitment to our relationship with God. We need to work for our faith and not just take it for granted. We need to be up and doing in our Christian demands. We need to be awake. We need to have our faith in God completely activated. That's the best way to express faith in God. God is real. He is still actively involved in creation. He wants faith in us that is alive and activated too. Only such faith can move the mountain of temptations and trials, sickness, pains, disappointments, on our way.
May the Lord increase our faith, activate it in such a way that we may not only follow but also make him known to others both in good times and in bad . Amen.