Sunday, Oct. 6, is the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Mass readings: Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10.
In the first reading from Habakkuk, we read of the prophet’s suffering and his pleading with the Lord for relief. The response he receives is to be patient and to have faith. This encouragement is picked up by St. Paul in his Letter to Timothy. “Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with strength that comes from God,” he tells him.
Finally, the Gospel reading from St. Luke begins with the apostles seeking help, as well. “Increase our faith,” they say to Jesus.
The readings for this Sunday speak to a tension within the Christian life that calls us to maintain steadfast fidelity to the Lord.
This tension often manifests itself in the sorrow, frustration and pain experienced by the follower of Christ because he or she is faithful. In a world hostile to the Christian witness, our fidelity to Christ and the teachings of the Church can be a burden and a source of suffering. As Jesus said several weeks ago, fidelity to him can result in the division of households, in fathers pitted against sons, in mothers pitted against daughters. How ought we respond but by crying for help, as Habakkuk does in the first reading or as the apostles do?
To some degree this tension exists because of a level of presumption on our part. Jesus alludes to this in today’s Gospel as he speaks of the servant who does what is instructed of him. We can be tempted to think that fidelity to the Lord is a kind of down payment on earthly happiness. Some view their relationship with God as a contract, i.e., “So long as I follow the rules, you’ll give me what I am owed.” Jesus tells us that this is exactly backward. He says, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to this as “the virtue of religion” (see No. 1807) This falls under the cardinal virtue of justice and teaches us that God is owed our fidelity. We do him no favors by following his law, by being faithful to the teachings of the Church he founded. His love for us through salvation history is complete gift. This is the meaning of grace. Therefore, he owes us nothing but is owed our worship and our constant fidelity. This is why the Psalmist today reminds us, “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
Still, the message of the Gospel is not all about obligation. In answer to the apostles’ prayer for an increased faith, Jesus tells them that with “faith the size of a mustard seed” they can accomplish impossible things. It is especially in the face of suffering that we forget this truth. Our relationship with Jesus is not a contract, but nor is it a master-slave relationship.
Rather, Jesus tells us that our fidelity to him will result in our transformation in and through him. The result is a life capable of extraordinary love, even in the face of suffering — a life, as St. Paul says today, with “the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.”
Omar Gutierrez is a permanent deacon in the Archdiocese of Omaha, Nebraska.
He is the president and
co-founder of the