Let us, briefly, think back on last week’s references about a faith which makes us vulnerable. We also spoke about this vulnerability becoming especially evident as we relate with love...
Do I live by faith? In other words is my Christian faith in the person of Jesus Christ and the norms of the Gospel the basis, foundation, of my life and living?
These are not easy questions to answer. How many of us are able to answer by a simple yes or no? Some, perhaps, are able to do so but I am in the same category as Saint Augustine who said: “Lord! I believe! Help my unbelief!” For example, I believe that the good Lord protects me in all circumstances. BUT, does this mean that I disconnect my burglar alarm system and cancel the householder’s insurance policy?
Look at the questions posed by one of the prophets in THIS SUNDAY’S OLD TESTAMENT READING [HABAKKUK 1: 2 – 3. 2: 2 – 4]. There we read: “Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear .. you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongs and look upon trouble?”
I believe that my faith is not an insurance policy against the trials, tribulations, and challenges of life. Rather, faith is that which provides me with the ability to encounter, cope, and handle the problems which are inherent to the living of life … and my life has to be lived, not endured! I believe that faith gives me the ability to laugh at myself, see my limitations, failures and successes – and all of this as a part of his plan to bring his kingdom to completion. God-in-Christ needs me to BELIEVE, to have faith, that – ultimately – he is in control despite my ‘unbelief’. The Lord needs me to have faith in HIM!
This is what Habakkuk means when he proclaims: “the Lord answered me … he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by faith.” Faith must be INSIDE me. It does not need always and in every circumstance to be on my sleeve. However, it must be an essential element of my living in order that I am able to pop up like the proverbial cork. TODAY’S PSALM [95 or 94] provides us with the secret: “he is our God … today listen to his voice … harden not your hearts.”
It is in this context that the words of Saint Paul in TODAY’S NEW TESTAMENT READING [2 TIMOTHY 1: 6 – 8. 13 – 14] take on real meaning. “Rekindle the gift of faith …. (not) a spirit of timidity but of power and love and self-control … take your share of suffering for the Gospel in the power of God.” Faith is something which has to be constantly rekindled, and this is not done unless we focus our attention (self-control) in an on-hands, pro-active (power) involvement (love). We have to keep on stoking the fire. It is no good having lit it and then sit watching (timidity) it go out. It is far better to occasionally burn our fingers rather than expose them to frostbite! The late Basil, Cardinal, Hume once said: “One can say further that in every human life there is sadness or difficulty from which the person would gladly be free. There are, too, considerable crises of one kind or another. ….. Sometimes it is just that God seems very remote – and that can be a great burden. … By the application of common sense (we) learn to adjust to situations, and learn to take to ourselves advice we know we ought to give – and would give – to others. We learn to cope with problems and to become less vulnerable.“
In other words we have to listen to his voice every day, and listen with ready hearts.
Always an integral part of our prayer must include that which was asked of the Lord at the very beginning of TODAY’S GOSPEL EXTRACT [LUKE 17: 5 – 10]. “Increase our faith.” Is this not precisely what Saint Augustine prayed? My faith can never be strong enough! It is always in need of growth – – – and growth comes from exercise and nourishment. Remember that the mustard seed grows into the largest of all shrubs and then provides shelter for ‘all our birds’.
It is best to see all Jesus’ parables and images as TEACHINGS which should be learnt … lessons on complicated, deep, matters made simple and brought into easier understanding and application.
Today’s Gospel lesson reminds us that we are always servants who serve. The master cares for his servants but there exists an order of priority which has to be observed. The disciples are expected to do their duty – and our duty is to grow in faith ….. only then are we able to sit and eat the fruits of our labours.
So, to end – keep the householder’s insurance policy and retain the security / alarm system. Use both with prudent care but do not place your FAITH in either. Real faith must be placed ONLY IN THE LORD! Then, having placed it where it should be, make sure that you guard and nurture it. Refrain from taking it for granted!