Sunday/Feast Day Reflections

Synopsis: OT XXVII [C] (Oct 2) Homily on Lk 17:5-10 (L-16)
Synopsis: OT XXVII [C] (Oct 2) Homily on Lk 17:5-10 (L-16)

Introduction:  All three readings for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time speak a lot about "Faith” and how it works in our lives. They give us three dimensions of Faith. The theological virtue of Faith enables us to believe something to be true and therefore worthy of trust because it has been revealed to us by God. Paul, who elsewhere defined Faith as “the assurance of the things hoped for,” shows it as a believing, trusting, loving relationship with Christ in his instructions to Timothy. Finally, Christian Faith is that trusting Faith in God in action, expressed by steadfast loyalty, fidelity and total commitment to Him, resulting in our offering to Him in those we encounter our humble and loving service.

Scripture lessons: The first reading presents Faith as trusting in God and living with fidelity to the Covenant. Here, Faith is shown as hope and steadfast expectation in the face of suffering and delay. God assures the prophet that Faith gives us access to Divine power, and, hence, the just will live righteous lives in the midst of encircling evil because of their Faith.  In today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 95), God is characterized as a sturdy rock and a caring shepherd, surely worthy of our trusting Faith. In the second reading,Paul presents Faith as our acceptance of Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of God.  Paul stresses the need for a living Faith in, and loyalty to, Christ’s teachings handed down to us by the Church. Hence, Faith is belief in, and acceptance of, revealed truths based on the authority and veracity of God, and Hope is trust in God. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his Apostles that Faith is sharing in God’s power, and, hence, even in small quantities it allows God to work miracles in our lives and in the lives of others. It is Faith, meaning reliance on, or confidence in, God, which makes one just, putting him into right relation with God and neighbor.  While the Apostles ask for an increase in the quantity of their Faith Jesus reminds them that the quality of their Faith is more important.  Using a master-servant parable, Jesus also teaches them that for Faith to be effective, it must be linked with trust, obedience and total commitment — an active submission to God with a willingness to do whatever He commands.

Life messages: 1)We need to thank God, giving Him the credit for our well- being.  Most of us are inclined to forget God’s providence when our earthly affairs are going well.  We pray to Him only when trouble strikes.  In His Infinite Goodness God often answers such prayers. Stronger Faith enables us to accept the adversities and the trials of life asking God, “Increase our Faith, Lord!” at all times.

 2) We need to increase our Faith by becoming dutiful servants of God.   We grow in Faith as we act in Faith. A sincere Christian can find many ways to help to make Christ known to his neighbor.  A quiet word, a charitable gesture, an unselfish interest in a neighbor’s troubles can do more good than a series of sermons given by some renowned theologian.

3) We need to grow in Faith by using the means Christ has given us in his Church.  We must cultivate our Faith through prayer, Bible study, participation in the Holy Mass (‘the mystery of Faith”) and leading a well-disciplined spiritual life.

OT XXVII [C] (Oct 2) Hb 1:2-3; 2:2-4; II Tm 1:6-8, 13-14; Lk 17:5-10

Anecdote:11) Blondin, the French tightrope walker became world-famous in June of 1859, when he walked on a tightrope stretched over quarter of a mile across the mighty Niagara Falls. He became the first person to accomplish this amazing feat.  He walked across 160 feet above the waterfalls several times, each time with a different daring feat - once in a sack, on stilts, on a bicycle, in the dark, and once even carrying a stove and cooking an omelet! A large crowd gathered and a buzz of excitement ran along both sides of the river bank. The crowd “Oooooohed!” and “Aaaaahed!” as Blondin carefully walked across one dangerous step after another -- blindfolded and pushing a wheelbarrow. Upon reaching the other side, the crowd's applause was louder than the roar of the falls! Blondin suddenly stopped and addressed his audience: "Do you believe I can carry a person across in this wheelbarrow?” The crowd enthusiastically shouted, "Yes, yes, yes. You are the greatest tightrope walker in the world. You can do anything!" "Okay," said Blondin, "Get in the wheelbarrow....." The Blondin story goes that no one did although all had faith in his ability! Later in August of 1859, his manager, Harry Colcord, showed his faith in Blondin and did ride on Blondin's back across the Falls. (http://www.creativebiblestudy.com/Blondin-story.html). In today’s Gospel, Jesus challenges his disciples to have such a Faith in him so that they may work miracles in their lives.  

2)  Pavarotti: My Own Story: Luciano Pavarotti was the charismatic successor of the legendary opera tenor, Enrico Caruso.  In his autobiography, Pavarotti: My Own Story, he describes how he was trained by a great master, Arrigo Pola. “Everything Pola asked me to do, I did, – day after day, blindly. For six months we did nothing but vocalize and work on vowels.” Pavarotti worked hard under Pola for two and a half years and then worked just as hard under Maestro Ettore Campogalliani for another five years. Finally after putting so much faith and trust in his mentors, Pavarotti made a breakthrough at a concert in Salsomaggiore in Northern Italy where he thrilled the audience and was catapulted into fame. This story about faith and trust leads us into today’s readings which focus on the same themes. As Luciano Pavarotti put his trust in his teachers, today’s Gospel instructs that we too must put our trust in our mentor Jesus Christ. (Albert Cylwicki in His Word Resounds).

3) Little child’s Faith in action:When Southern author and poet Laverne W. Hall was asked her definition of faith, she couched it in the following narrative. Summer sun and a lack of rain had left the fields parched and brown. As they tended their wilting crops, the townspeople worriedly searched the sky for any sign of relief. Days turned into arid weeks and still no rain came. The ministers of the local churches announced that there would be a special service to pray for rain on the following Saturday. They requested that everyone bring an object of Faith for inspiration. At the appointed hour, everyone turned out en masse, filling the town square with anxious faces and hopeful hearts. The ministers were touched to see the variety of objects clutched in prayerful hands; prayer books, Bibles, crosses, rosaries, etc. Just as the hour of prayer was concluding, and as if by some Divine cue, a soft rain began to fall. Cheers swept the crowd as they held their treasured objects high in gratitude and praise. From the middle of the crowd, one faith symbol seemed to overshadow all the others; a small nine-year-old child had brought an umbrella! Without speaking a word, the child enunciated that quality of authentic Faith which expresses itself in commitment. By bringing the umbrella, the child affirmed the fact that Faith is more than intellectual assent to a set of revealed truths or theological doctrines. (Patricia Datchuck Sánchez)

Introduction:  All three readings for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time speak a lot about "Faith” and how it works in our lives. They give us three dimensions of Faith. The theological virtue of Faith enables us to believe something to be true and therefore worthy of trust because it has been revealed to us by God.Paul, who elsewhere defined Faith as “the assurance of the things hoped for,” shows it as a believing, trusting, loving relationship with Christ in his instructions to Timothy. Finally, Christian Faith is that trusting Faith in God in action, expressed by steadfast loyalty, fidelity and total commitment to Him, resulting in our offering to Him in those we encounter our humble and loving service.

The first reading defines Faith as trusting in God and living with fidelity to the Covenant.Here Faith is presented as trust and steadfast expectation in the face of suffering and delay. God assures the prophet that although “the rash one” that is one who does not believe, “has no integrity, “the just one, because of his Faith, will live” because he will lead a righteous life in the midst of encircling evil.  Faith, then, is the foundation of faithfulness; and faithfulness strengthens Faith.  In today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 95), God is characterized as a sturdy rock and a caring shepherd, surely worthy of our trusting Faith. This reminds us of St. Augustine’s advice to “pray as though everything depended on God, and work as though everything depended on you.” The second readingexplains why Faith gives us a new way of looking at things and a new way of living.  Paul presents Faith as our acceptance of Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of God. Paul stresses the need for a living Faith in, and loyalty to, Christ’s teachings, which have been handed down to us by the Church. Hence, Faith is belief in, and acceptance of, revealed truths, based on the authority and veracity of God, and Hope is trust in God. Faith not only enables us to be faithful; it also strengthens us to be courageous. Faith grows as we put it to use by obediently rendering humble service to God in others. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches his Apostles that Faith allows us to share in God’s power, and, hence, even in small quantities, it enables Him to work miracles in our lives and in the lives of others. It is Faith which makes one just, putting him into right relation with God and neighbor.  In the Bible, Faith means reliance on, or confidence in, God, and Hope is the expectation of a better future. While the Apostles ask for an increase in the quantity of their Faith, Jesus reminds them that the quality of their faith is more important.  Using a master-servant parable, Jesus also teaches them that, for Faith to be effective, it must be linked with trust, loving obedience and total commitment — an active submission to God and a willingness to do whatever He commands, even in tough times.

First reading: Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4:  Habakkuk was a minor prophet who lived during the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. and encouraged his fellow Jews to retain their Faith during this disaster. He interprets Faith as a persistent confidence in God's saving power. The first two chapters of the book of Habakkuk are in the form of a dialogue between the prophet and God. The prophet repeatedly complains and the Lord answers each time.  Around 600 BC, God's people had been unfaithful, and, as a deserved punishment for their sins, a pagan nation, Babylon, was preparing to invade Jerusalem. What distressed the prophet was that Judah's punishment came at the hands of brutal pagans who were overly aggressive. It looked as if bad were being punished by worse. To Habakkuk, it seemed that the Lord God was strengthening the arm of injustice in not punishing the excesses of His people’s enemy. He saw this as unworthy of God’s holiness and justice. Hence, the prophet cried out to God, "How long, Lord, am I to cry for help while you will not listen?  I cry out to you, 'Violence!’--Yet you do not save.”   But God told His prophet to trust in Him, to persevere and to be patient, because He was aware of both the goodness of the good people and the evil they fought against.  The reading concludes with the positive answer from God: "The just man, because of faith, shall live" [Hb 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38].  This means that that the righteous, or just, one is steadfast in faithfulness, even in the midst of violence and destruction, and this faithfulness assures life. Faith here is not simply assent to a series of doctrines, but includes trust, with a steadfast expectation of release in the face of suffering and delay. The just man lives because he keeps his relationship with God.  The word "Faith" (emunah) used here refers to a living Faith, a Faith expressed in actions, a Faith with works (James. 2:17, 26).  Therefore, it can only be concluded that faith without works is indeed dead. "Faith is compounded of belief and love as well as of trust and confidence amid trials and tribulations" (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, page 297, # 39, 4b).

Second reading: II Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14:Raymond E. Brown (An Introduction to the New Testament, Doubleday, New York: 1997) suggests that 2 Timothy was written not long after Paul’s death as a farewell testament by someone very close to him during his last days. Therefore, these words of encouragement should be understood as part of an eloquent and passionate appeal by the greatest Christian apostle that his work should continue beyond his death through generations of disciples. Although Timothy had been groomed as Paul's successor in the ministry, he had grown disillusioned at the Christian community's lukewarmness and was somewhat embarrassed by Paul's current status as prisoner. Hence, Paul encouraged Timothy to persevere, stressing the need for a living Faith: "Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the Faith and Love that are in Christ Jesus." The graces of ordination (which Timothy had received), include "power" to master every situation, self-sacrificing "love" expressed in affectionate service to the community, and the "self-control" essential for Christian leadership.The Deposit of Faith entrusted to him had to be handed on to the next generation, with Hope in, and Love for, Jesus Christ. Faith and love cannot be separated, and “Faith, Hope and Charity are the foundation of Christian moral activity.  They are the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being" (CCC #1813).  In saying to Timothy, "I am reminding you to fan into flame the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you," Paul was saying to his people in effect,“Don’t look at yourselves; look at what God has given you.  Get up and do something!"  Our Christian Faith is our bond with God and our communion with one another in the Holy Spirit. We need to "fan it into a flame."   That takes vigilance and effort.  If we are really serious about our Faith, we will spend time with God in prayer, in reflection, in adoration.   

Exegesis: The context: When Jesus demanded of his disciples that they respond with unconditional and unlimited forgiveness to their repentant offenders (vv 3-4), the disciples asked Jesus for more Faith so that they could meet this demand.  In addition, the Apostles were asking for greater confidence and trust in God, so that they might work the miracles which they had seen Jesus perform, like the withering of a fig-tree by a simple command. Jesus responded by telling them of the power of Faith -- even a very little Faith (vv5-6).  He used the parables of the mustard seed and the good servant to help them understand the need for strong Faith.

a) The parable of the mustard seed:If you have faith the size of a mustard seed."  Faith is used here in three senses.  1) First, Faith means "trust."   People "have faith in their banks" because their accounts are insured.  Similarly, we must put our trust in the authority of God and in the truth of His doctrines. St. Paul defines Faith as confidence and certainty (Hebrews 11:1).  2) Second, Faith refers to assent to doctrines about God taught by Jesus and the Church (e.g., our belief in the truths listed in the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed).   3) Third, Faith   refers to a “bond” or “relationship,” with God.   Jesus tells us that if we have even a small relationship with our Heavenly Father, we can do anything.  No matter how weak it seems, Faith is an overwhelming power.  Even a little Faith can direct our lives, comfort us when we are discouraged and challenge us when we are complacent. Jesus did not ask the Apostles to move trees or mountains, but rather to forgive their repentant brothers and sisters.  Such a requirement demands Faith, and the Apostles (representing all Church leaders), responded by asking that their faith be increased to meet such a demanding challenge.  Jesus reminds them that it is not the greatness of their Faith, but rather the greatness of God’s power working through them that will move mountains (Mt 17:20; Mk 11:23).  Forgiveness is a gift of God’s grace, activated through Faith.  When a person of Faith is trustingly receptive to God’s power, all things become possible — even moving mountains or forgiving bitter enemies. 

Faith strong enough to plant a tree in the sea:  Planting a tree in the sea using words alone sounds impossible and ridiculous to us.  But, using this cartoon metaphor, Jesus challenges us to attempt the difficult things of life.  The tree Jesus mentions is a variety of large, deeply rooted mulberry tree that grows in the Middle East.  By this strange example, Jesus shows us that we, too, can perform miracles.   We must be ready to attempt things that the worldly, the wise and the sophisticated laugh at. Here are two examples. 1) A middle-aged mother went back to complete her teacher training.  She specialized in helping children with learning difficulties.  In a large school she worked with a class of what others called “the retarded.”  Because she had actually asked for this difficult class, some teachers treated her as though she were insane.   Wasn’t this truly “planting trees in the sea?”   2) A priest in Africa deliberately committed a small crime in order to get himself put in a prison where he could minister to those who needed him most.   He was “planting a tree in the sea!”  He had true Faith!

b) The parable of the Under-Appreciated Servant: This parable teaches that Faith requires action. It also gives us a lesson in theological Humility, reminding us that, as followers of Jesus, we are God’s servants. This becomes evident in the parable about the master who expects his servant to carry out his orders.  When the servant returns from working in the fields, he also has housework to do.  His master does not feel indebted to his servant for his fidelity in doing what is all part of his duty.  In the same manner, the Apostles, and we, are expected to carry out the orders Jesus gives us.  They, and we, are the servants of the Gospel. So we can never feel that we have worked “enough.” We must regard ourselves as God’s servants, as did Jesus who came “not to be served, but to serve” (Matthew 20:28). Service to God and neighbor is a voluntary or free act which springs from a generous and merciful heart.  It is a sacred duty which we owe to God.  When we serve the poor, we are simply serving at the Lord’s Table and waiting on Him while He eats and drinks.  As we work for the Lord in Faith, He works in us.

 Jesus instructs his disciples to say, “We are unprofitable servants.”  The New English Bible gives the correct translation: "We are servants and deserve no credit."The Greek original suggests simply that these servants should not expect anything further, i.e., that they should not be looking for special attention or approval.We also must realize that our ability to lead a good life, to love other people, and to serve God is not our own doing.  These things come from our relationship with God.  Even when we forgive others, it is by the grace of God through Faith.  He is our Source of power, and without His help we are useless servants.  We acknowledge our bond with God as the source of our virtue.  The stronger our relationship with God, the more will we be empowered to forgive others and do good to them.

Life messages: 1)We need to thank God, giving Him the credit for our well-being.  Following the example of the Apostles, we must pray for greater Faith and trust in God.  Most of us are inclined to forget God’s providence when our earthly affairs are going well.  How often do we thank Him when we enjoy good health, or when our home-life and business are going smoothly?  How many of us thank God for all the gifts we have received?  We often attribute our good health to correct use of food and exercise.  Often we attribute our success to our hard work and intelligence.  It is only when a storm arises in our life that we think of God.  We pray to Him only when trouble strikes.  In His Infinite Goodness, God often answers such prayers. If, however, we had thought of Him every day and realized His place in our lives, with how much more confidence would we approach Him in our hour of need?  If our own personal lives were stronger in Faith, how much more readily would we accept the adversities and the trials that God sends us?   This is why we must ask God today to “increase our Faith” at all times.

2)  We need to increase our Faith by becoming dutiful servants of God.   A zealous Christian can speak more convincingly to his or her neighbor about the need for God and an upright life through his or her own daily actions than through explaining religious doctrines. A sincere Christian can find many ways to help to make Christ known to his neighbor.  A quiet word, a charitable gesture, an unselfish interest in a neighbor’s troubles can do more good than a series of sermons given by some renowned theologian. There are always people around us who need help. We can help them — God expects it of us. Faith is increased by serving others, not by being served. Faith is increased when we manifest our love towards others, our family, friends and strangers.  When we isolate ourselves from the world, we lose our Faith.

3) We need to grow in Faith by using the means Christ has given us in His Church.  We must cultivate our Faith through prayer, Bible study, and leading a well-disciplined spiritual life. Faith is the gift of God—so we must pray that God will increase our Faith.  Time spent with God in prayer is fundamental to the development of Faith.  We must pray for a Faith that is strong enough to overcome the difficulties and crises we face daily.  In addition, association with people of Faith builds Faith.  Hence, our participation in the Holy Mass ("the mystery of Faith”), and the life of the Church is important.  Because of the Eucharistic Meal on the altar and   the Sacramental graces at our disposal, we find that we are not unprofitable servants, but instruments and agents of Jesus, Who, through the power of Divine Love, helps us to reap a harvest worthy of Him.  Sacred Scriptures inform and correct our Faith.  Without the guidance of the Scriptures, our Faith tends to be weak.    We grow in Faith as we act in Faith.  Every gift of God is strengthened by the exercise of it.

(Prepared by Fr. Tony (stjohngrandbay.org) and published by CBCI)

 

1-page synopsis: OT XXVI (Sept 25) Homily on Lk 16:19-31(L/16)
1-page synopsis: OT XXVI (Sept 25) Homily on Lk 16:19-31(L/16)
One-page synopsis: OT XXV (Sept 18) Homily on Lk 16:1-13 (L/16)
One-page synopsis of OT XXIV (Sept 11) Sunday on Lk 15:1-32 L/16