October 6, 2013 –– 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Habakkuk 1:2–3, 2:2–4 / Luke 17:5-10
How To Grow In Faith
The kingdom of Judah was in big trouble. Babylon was invading and even Jerusalem was feeling the effect. Everywhere people looked there was threat and disintegration. When things get bad, people start praying. But this only caused more consternation. Habakkuk’s prophecy expresses a common attitude about prayer: I cry for help, but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence,” but you do not intervene. Why....? Violence and destruction, ruin and misery.... it’s part of a long cycle: we cry out to God and seem to get no answers.
Yet God does give the prophet an answer: The vision still has its time –– in other words, “the answer is coming.” If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late –– in other words, “God moves in his way and time.” We often think God is “late” but faith knows that God is always on time. That is the climax of the Habakkuk reading: the just one, because of his faith, shall live.
This verse is quoted three times in the New Testament (Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:38). Faith makes a difference. Faith is what opens us to the reality of God––and his salvation. Faith enables us to “see” differently. People of faith see things people without faith dismiss or even ridicule. Faith is the foundation for living distinctively in the world for Jesus’ sake.
In the Gospel reading we find the disciples saying to Jesus: Increase our faith. (This comes right after a very sobering lesson about forgiveness that evidently caused the disciples to say, “Whoa, you’ve got to help us with this one!” –– which came out as, Increase our faith.) Jesus’ response is the point here. Is the issue really how much faith we have? Jesus says the smallest amount of real faith can do amazing things. So, what is the issue here?
We can be like the disciples. They felt that if they could have more faith, they could be better disciples. We often think like this, too. We look at our life and maybe we are not pleased at what we see. We know that we could be doing better. We wish our prayers were answered more to our desires. So, we say to ourselves, "If only I had more faith. Then I could be a better Christian." Maybe we pray the same thing the disciples said: Increase my faith!
Jesus told the disciples: If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you. This was not the answer the disciples were looking for. It seems that Jesus would have commended their desire or even laid hands on them so their faith would suddenly swell like a balloon, but Jesus’ answer implies something else: "You do have faith. And even if it is small, you can still do great things!" –– in other words, "You already have faith.... you just aren't using it!"
The disciples didn't need to ask to increase their faith; they needed to increase their faithfulness. There is a big difference. Faith is a gift from God. He gives us each the faith we need and it is sufficient because it is the gift of God. Faithfulness, on the other hand, is our response to the gift of faith. It's what we do with our faith, and that is up to us. Faith is like a muscle –– use it or lose it! The one way to “increase” faith is to exercise it! We “exercise” our faith by being faithful.
Think of the gyms and fitness centers that have grown in such number over recent years. What if the popularity of physical fitness was matched by a passion for spiritual development? We would have saints all over the place!
When we have faith, we know that God is there. We may not understand. We may wonder “how long?” when we are hurting or things around us are falling apart. We may be tempted to think that what is asked of us is ridiculous. But when we know God is there (that’s faith), then when God says, "Okay, here's what I want you to do...." we need to do it. Then it's not a matter of faith; it's a matter of faithfulness.
There is not one person in this world who is not troubled by something. There is not one of us in the Church who has no worries, no pains, no threats looming on the horizon. Finances, health, relationships, responsibilities.... all these things hover over us, and sometimes rush at us faster than we know what to do. Faith knows that God is here.... but faithfulness has to exercise what we are going to do about it. Are we going to trust? Are we willing to wait? Are we ready to obey? Trusting.... waiting.... obeying.... these can be some of the hardest things in the world. Faith is always a risk. Scripture tells us that faith is acting on what cannot be proven; our hope in God is to take priority over what is right before our eyes (hope that is seen is not hope....for who hopes for what he sees? –Romans 8:24). An unbelieving world tells us we’re crazy. But when we trust and wait and obey, we exercise our faith.
When we as Christians get the feeling that something is not quite right in our walk with God, it's not that something is wrong with the faith we have been given. The Holy Spirit dwells within us to give us faith. We are to let faith do its work. When hard things threaten.... when it seems our world is falling apart.... when doing the right thing is not easy.... we learn to be faithful. God’s presence invites us to exercise the risk of trusting, waiting and obeying. Then our faith will increase.