Sunday of the 27th Week of Ordinary Time
Faith as Gerund
Habakuk 1:2-3;2:2-4, 2Timothy 1:6-8,13-14; Luke 17:5-10
One day a very good and faithful man died and was brought to heaven. When his guardian angel was giving him a tour, they passed by a room with shelves of body parts. He thought that those ears, tongues, and hearts were spares that God may be keeping to replace sick or damaged human body parts when people on earth needed them. “Oh no,” said his guardian angel. “They have already been on earth and, like you, they are now here in heaven.” “Oh, so they once belonged to real people?” “Yes. These are ears that belonged to persons who, when they lived on earth heard what they ought to do in order to be good, but they didn’t pay any attention to it. Upon death, their ears came to heaven, but the rest of their bodies did not. These are tongues. They once belonged to people in the world who told people to do good and how to live good but they themselves never did as they told others. So when they died, their tongues came to heaven but the rest of their bodies could not. These are hearts. They once belonged to people who enthusiastically preached about love and humility. But they themselves were never humble nor loving. So when they died their hearts came to heaven but the rest of their bodies did not.”
One of the many things that fascinated me in the elementary English Grammar course was the GERUND. Not only because it sounds like my name, Gerard. I found it very interesting that a verb could function as a noun, noun verbs ending in ‘-ing’ like ‘speaking,’ reading, writing… ‘Is my writing legible?’
Just like faith. Faith may seem just a noun that we talk about or refer to as something we receive and then possess, grow with and grow out of. But more than this, faith should move us, and enable us.
Faith can move mountains, but it can also move our hearts, and enable our whole being. If only our faith can always be a GERUND – a verbal noun, not just a static noun.
In the Gospel reading today, the Apostles requested Jesus to increase their faith. And Jesus replied that to have faith the size of a mustard seed is enough for one to command a tree to be uprooted and be planted in the sea, so it’s not the quantity but the quality, that is, if faith is static or active. And how do we really measure faith, but in how it is active. So Jesus had to shift the attention when asked for an ‘increase.’
The faith that is being asked for is not to have a better knowledge of our catechism or dogmas. What is being asked for is much deeper and stronger trust and confidence that our God is near us, even when he seems so far away, that God is in us and can do things through us.
Luke seems to be invoking “faith” in much the same way as does Habakkuk in today’s First Reading which closes with a comparison between the proud whose “spirit is not right” and the just who “live by faith” (Hab. 2:4). The Hebrew word for faith in this passage is probably better translated as “living in fidelity” or “living in faithfulness.” For Jesus, in the Gospel according to Luke, a little fidelity or faithfulness goes a long way. Jesus puts a number of questions to his disciples, questions that align their status with that of slaves in the service of a master.
Jesus tells that true disciples do not seek reward nor honor nor recompense for their service. Followers of Jesus must admit that their service is “unprofitable” in that it is no more than what is required of them. So for us in the monastic journey, following the ‘horarium’ – the communal activities all through the day may just be the bare minimum. It’s how we put our whole being into each moment, how we enact God’s grace and are nurtured by it as we also build up the community that makes it an expression of our faith in action: faith alive with hands, and feet, and heart…
Consequential power, status, wealth acquired at the expense of others, and refusal to forgive, all run counter to the path of Gospel fidelity. To live by faith is to be humble, forgiving, just, and unremittingly attentive to the cry of those with us on the earth and of the earth itself. Jesus seems to say that our faith is not for seeking the consolations of God but the God of consolations.
Now we also beg Christ to increase our faith. We may not expect to eventually be able to command mountains to move. But let us expect that our faith is enough to move our ears to listen actively to God’s Living Word, to move our tongues to proclaim God’s Good News, to move our hearts to the promptings of compassion and love, to move our hands to reach out to others, to move our feet to accompany others, as good and faithful servants of God.