17 Pentecost

Lam. 1:1-6 [Hab. 1:1-4, 2:1-4]
Lam. 3:19-26 or Ps. 137 [Ps. 37:1-10]
2 Tim. 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

“So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” (Luke 17:10). This phrase and the preceding parable about the master and his servant illustrates “faith” as the act of fulfilling one’s duty without expectation of special gain or recognition. This sort of faithfulness makes no special claim on God. The sentences about faith “the size of a mustard seed” having the power to uproot a mulberry tree show the power of faith to accomplish an extraordinary (though useless) movement of a tree from land to sea. Such faith leaves a mulberry tree floating on the water! The background of all this is the disciples asking the Lord to “increase our faith.” Much is implied in the word “our.”

The disciples want a faith that could rightly claim something, but Jesus prohibits such a claim. As if conceding to their request, he promises something, but something absurd, the power to transplant a mulberry tree from soil to sea. Faith as a human work – that is, faith as something of our “own” – can make no claim upon the grace of God in Christ, nor can it accomplish anything of real use. There are other legitimate ways to read these verses quite differently, of course, but given the widespread misunderstanding that faith is something of our own, typically thought of as an intense emotional response or intellectual ascent or wonder-working, it is important to say in the strongest possible terms that such faith is worthless and useless. We do not feel or think or work our way to God.

Faith is not something we do, nor is it something we have. Faith is first and foremost the gift of God. Faith is love. Faith is the love of God poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. While there are many references in the New Testament to faith “in Jesus Christ,” it is unfortunate that St. Paul’s actual use of “faith of Jesus Christ” is usually translated as the former. In Romans, Galatians, and Philippians, St. Paul speaks of the faith or faithfulness of Jesus Christ toward us. (Rom. 3:22; Gal 2:16; 20; Phil. 3:9) “Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through the faith of Christ, the righteousness of God based on faith” (Phil. 3:9).

Even more striking is the well- known passage in Galatians in which St. Paul seems to disappear into the very life and gift of Christ. “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Jesus Christ has done this. Christ gave himself for us and poured his life-giving Spirit into our hearts.

In a sense, living in Christ, living from the faith of Christ is to be a temple of Christ. Christ is within. Christ is the bone of my bone, and the flesh of my flesh. I recognize myself in Christ but precisely as another and new self, a self that was put to death and raised in union with Christ. “It is Christ who lives in me.” From this, fruits of holiness follow, but even these are gifts of God, and among those gifts nothing is more important than gratitude.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is your faithfulness” (Lam. 3:22-23).

Look It Up: Ps. 37:7

Think About It: Leave aside emotional strain and cognitive noise. Wait and listen as the Gift arrives.

 

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