Mass for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year C 2022
Readings: Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 1:6-14; Luke 17:5-10
The distortion of Christianity takes many forms. There are those Christians who believe that the good life in this world and not just the next is the goal of Christian life. Nowadays, there is a big branch of Christianity that promises a direct path to the good life. It is often nicknamed the “prosperity gospel” for its bold central claim that God will give you your heart’s desires: money in the bank, a healthy body, a thriving family, and boundless happiness. Throughout much of history, whether individually or institutionally, Christians have not always united in demonstrating what true discipleship means. We have lurched between humility and worldly power, service and self-interest, simplicity and triumphalism.
Scripture in the last few weeks teaches us about what it takes to be the true follower of Jesus. Last Sunday, Jesus cautioned us against accumulation and greed through the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. This week, the focus is on another dimension of costly discipleship. It involves letting go of our securities, embracing the risk of uncertainty and venturing into the unknown chaos. To be a disciple is to choose an alternative mode of thinking and living quite contrary to our default position of safety, security and comfort.
The readings today speak of the God who summons us to the new and life-giving future through the time of chaos, crisis and death. In the book of Habakkuk, we hear a message of lamentation from the prophet who is discouraged by the sorrowful situation in Israel before the exile. “Outrage and violence,” he cries to God, “all is contention and discord flourishes.”
Habakkuk is in despair because what is supposed to be the model society for the nations has descended into total lawlessness. The social distinction of caring for the weak has reverted to the dominance of the strong. But he is assured that not all is lost. God will see to it that his vision is fulfilled, even if it is fulfilled in its own time only. He is urged to keep fidelity, integrity and justice in the midst of self-interest and opportunism.
In the Gospel, the disciples are taught an important lesson in authentic discipleship. Their request to increase their faith seems legitimate enough and yet Jesus responds with a kind of strange image of the mulberry tree being planted in the ocean. As it turns out, the disciples have not understood what it means to have a depth of faith. They are still preoccupied with power, control and domination. Their request for an increase of faith amounts to an upgrade in supernatural powers, so that they could call down fire from heaven to punish people who have not listened to them.
Understood in this context, Jesus’ use of the mustard seed begins to make sense. It is a lesson in counter-cultural understanding. Faith does not manifest itself in size, successes, heroics and invincibility. Having faith does not mean brandishing a weapon or a magic power at one’s disposal. On the contrary, it often means walking the long hard road of fidelity, love and even suffering against our natural default position of safety, security and immunity
Jesus teaches something quite radical here. He teaches that the way to the kingdom is a discipleship of vulnerability, humility and powerlessness. Just as Jesus embraced the journey of downward mobility that brought him humiliation, betrayal, defeat, failure and death on the cross, the disciple’s proof of authenticity is not popularity, success and acclaim. Rather, he/she will have to prove his/her mettle in the crucible of suffering in imitation of the Servant Master.
It’s a wake-up call for the disciples. We must be under no illusions about what we get ourselves into and who we follow. Jesus made it clear that following him has little to do with safeguarding one’s interest and security. Rather, it is about the courage to follow through the costly discipleship and to align ourselves with the Humble Servant who lived a life of simplicity, witness, service and solidarity.
We are called to be light of the world and salt of the earth. St Paul in the Second Reading reminds us to “fan into a flame” the gift of faith, which is not a spirit of timidity but the Spirit of power and love. Therefore, we cannot remain as bystanders who are indifferent to what goes on in the world. The power of God strengthens us as we seek to be agents of the Gospel.
Let us then persevere in prosecuting the cause of God’s kingdom, in actions born out of faith, hope and love as we stand united in the face of “globalised indifference”. Let us ask for an increase of faith not as a shield to keep us safe but as a means to serve others. May we deepen our faith in times of crisis and upheaval, always confident of God’s unfolding plan for all humanity.
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