And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." The Lord replied, "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. "Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here immediately and take your place at table'? Would he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished' Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'"
"And the apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." The Lord replied, "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." (cf. verse 5-6)
Today's gospel takes us deep into our attitude towards God. The apostles ask the Lord: "Strengthen our faith" - in Greek this literally means "give us faith". It is interesting to note that the word "faith" is not followed by an article. So it is not about the faith that makes one blessed, i.e. the divine virtue of faith. It is rather about the power of faith and the authority of faith, which the Lord can attribute to our action in this area. Indeed, only if the fulfilment of the mission that God has entrusted to us in the kingdom of God is linked to the strength of faith can it also bear supernatural fruit, so that we dare to take steps that God wants to take through us, but which we do not feel able to take on our own. Paul speaks of the charism of faith, which is given to the Church to build up.This "mustard seed faith" of which Jesus speaks then produces amazing things for the world. How many extraordinary things have sometimes been produced by men of faith, saints, by the power of faith, and which we still wonder about today. They have dared and begun things which they would certainly not have risked if they had relied only on their natural good sense. They would not have believed in the success of their project. But they had the inner impulse of the Holy Spirit and, in this strength of faith, they dared to take steps which produced truly astonishing things. At the Curé d'Ars, the wheat suddenly multiplied; Don Bosco distributed bread and there was no shortage of it, even if there was not enough for the many children. But besides these rather extraordinary things, what is decisive is what the saints have built up in part, what they have brought about as a conversion in people. All these fruits come from this strength of faith and are therefore God's business. That is why the disciples also ask for this faith: faith is not my ability, is not my effort: "Lord, add faith to our actions. Associate your grace with our actions, so that truly amazing works are accomplished. When we talk to people or when I preach and announce the word of God, I can do it in a purely objective way, like reading and explaining an article. But almost nothing will happen unless the Lord adds power to faith, so that people are suddenly touched in their hearts by an ordinary word. The word is then only a vehicle for the power of faith and the grace that the Lord associates with it and which provokes in the listener what the word says. That is why this demand for faith, for the strength of faith and the power of faith is so important.
The parable of the mustard seed makes it clear that this is not the measure of faith. Indeed, even with faith as small as a mustard seed, I can move this giant sycamore tree, perhaps centuries old. But it is not about the measure, but about the nature of faith as a gift of faith. There is a difference between something that is done by one's own means and something that is done by the spirit. It is of course normal, for example, for me to prepare a sermon well by gathering ideas and refining the text. It may also be that I have a gift for the spoken word, so that the preaching is well received, like a piece of poetry or a good poem. And yet it may be that no one is converted by listening to such a sermon, precisely because there was no strength of faith associated with it. I have only preached from myself, and such preaching then causes no conversion. The difference is whether I do something by my own power or by the power of the Spirit, and whether I really ask the Lord to do what I do: "Give faith to my actions, to my words. Give me the Holy Spirit to be present in my word.
Such a faith then always sees possibilities in seemingly hopeless life situations, where the man of pure reason despairs. People have experienced this time and time again, and perhaps we have experienced it ourselves. Take the situation in Germany today, for example: can we really still imagine that Germany will convert and become religious again? If one answers only with reason, one must say that things are getting worse and worse. I can't imagine that there will be much faith left in the next generation. But faith sees possibilities far beyond our imagination, because it knows that by the grace of God, by a new Pentecost, a knowledge suddenly comes into the hearts of men, which leads to revelation, if it is accepted. This is faith. And that is why the one who truly believes never despairs. The believer knows that God has everything in hand and will do it, and that everything in this world must serve God's plan. Therefore, he should not despair, even if his situation seems very bleak. Faith begins where one relies on what the Lord is doing.
"Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here immediately and take your place at table'? Would he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished' Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'" (cf. verses 7-10)
Jesus then tells the parable of the slave. This short parable reveals a great teaching wisdom of Jesus, with which he teaches and trains his disciples. With the previous image of the mustard seed and the sycamore tree, Jesus had shown that it is not the strength, but the inner essence of our faith that counts. And this faith can often be devoid of feelings: We feel nothing from the point of view of faith, but we still take the step of faith, even though feelings and reason may be against it, because we are convinced that the Lord wants it. God always asks us to take the first step. He never tells us at once what the goal is. We must always dare to take the first step, like Abraham. Back then, in today's Iraq, God spoke the first word to a man: Abraham, go! God made him leave without telling him where he was going. He promises him a land, but Abraham does not know where it is or how he can get there and take possession of it. He must first set out on his journey. This is the path of faith. This is the essence of faith: with the smallest spark of faith, we can accomplish what is otherwise impossible. But this spark of faith I must first ask God for.
With the parable of the slave, Jesus now makes it clear to the disciples that such faith is not the merit of man. A slave was totally dependent on his master. He was his property. A servant could earn money from his master, he had free time and could even quit. A slave, on the other hand, was the total owner of his body and had no rights. He could not say: "I did something special". For everything he did was slave labour and, as such, was self-evident and did not entitle him to any credit. There was no thanks for it, for the slave did nothing excessive or extraordinary, but only what was his duty. In blind obedience, the enslaved slave had to carry out the master's orders. He was only entitled to food and drink for the work he did. Indeed, he had to eat and drink in order to work for the master.
It is remarkable that the service of God's servants - Jesus indeed compares this slave to those who follow him - is represented in this parable by the image of farming and pastoral work. Apostolic work is evoked here in its difficult aspect (farming) but also in its easy aspect. Each disciple must faithfully and patiently carry out the work entrusted to him, whether it is sometimes difficult or sometimes easy. Jesus wants to illustrate a particular aspect of the servant or slave who serves: We are expendable slaves, expendable servants, because we have only done what we had to do, nothing too much and nothing extraordinary. The next slave or servant also only does what he has to do. But Jesus does not say that we are worthless servants. For in another passage he calls us friends. Rather, the basic idea is this: any call to personal performance is rejected, because we cannot acquire eternity through human action. Salvation is a pure gift. What we do is the most natural thing in the world. It is an expression of our love, nothing extraordinary and nothing for which we could demand a salary. The fact that Jesus gives us a wage in spite of everything is an expression of his totally free love and mercy.
It is again about that fundamental attitude of poverty, as we knew it in last Sunday's Gospel of the rich Prassian and the poor Lazarus. This fundamental attitude of poverty is the precondition for the riches that God gives us in eternal life. Everything is pure grace, as Paul says. And here we immediately notice that our pride opposes it: "Everything is grace? Well, I do contribute a little! This is certainly true, but I must be clear: What I do is self-evident. It is my mission. It doesn't deserve anything. That is why I get food and drink, that is why God supports me. That is why he created the world. But I also have no right to anything infinitely eternal, because what I do is neither infinite nor eternal. Once I have done it, it is finished. Then I have no more rights. It's about this truly humble fundamental attitude. This surrender to God is nothing more than my most intimate existence. I am nothing of myself. I am of God and I have all my support in God. But this God is infinite love. I am not just someone who is needed and thrown away, but I am infinitely loved for all eternity, regardless of my behaviour. That is why I can also fully accept this total dependence on God, on his infinite love. It is much easier to depend entirely on infinite love than on oneself, to be totally responsible for oneself. What can we do for ourselves? If I get sick, I can't do anything about it, and if I die, I can't do anything about it either. But if I am dependent on an infinite love, I always know I am loved and it is always about that perfection to which love leads.
Peter also asks: "You know, we have left everything and followed you. What shall we receive in return?" (Mt 19:27), that is, he too wants to receive something in return for his service. The very example of Peter shows us the danger of Christ-followers, and therefore also of us: when we follow Christ and try to live the Gospel as best we can, we are quick to make demands on God. If we then ask God for something, he should in principle grant it. And of course, heaven is safe for us; we have a right to it, after all, we are good people! We always fall into this danger, into this false way of thinking: What is granted to us? What do I get for what I have done? What do I get, Christ, for following you? I receive nothing in return. The other is a pure gift of infinite love. And if something comes from infinite love, it is a hundred times safer for us than if we seek to acquire it on our own. We must always keep this in mind.
So let us keep this basic attitude in mind. We will always feel this pride and wealth in ourselves: these hidden pretensions in our hearts are very quickly there, especially if we commit ourselves and work zealously in the service of God's kingdom. But we serve a Lord who gave his life for us. He has redeemed us to make us his property and our response is that we can serve him, not that we must serve him. ∎