This Sunday, Put Your Tiny Faith to Work and Score Big

The apostles ask Jesus, “Increase our faith,” in this Sunday’s Gospel, and Jesus’s strange reply seems less strange when you see how it answers that prayer.

It does seem pretty strange at first, though: Jesus tells them that, if only they had faith, they could plant trees in the sea and work ceaselessly for a demanding boss.

But not only are Jesus’s words not strange, but we have probably experienced what he is talking about nearly every day.

“If you had 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,” he says.

In similar passages in Matthew Jesus tells them that their faith can move mountains. The point is that the obstacles in our way disappear in the face of real faith — and many of us have experienced this.

My faith has moved mountains. I have seen insurmountable difficulties disappear in front of me — the mountains of hopelessness and incomprehension caused by crisis hit my life melted away or became peaks bringing me closer to God. Faith has also uprooted the gnarled, deep-rooted trees in my life and thrown them into the sea, too — the twisted relationships that seemed unfixable, the intractable addictions I thought would grip my life forever, and the character defects I was certain would lead to failure. Suddenly, with faith, relationships straightened out, addictions faded away, and character defects became no big deal.

Next, Jesus says “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’?”

That sounds harsh, and we are tempted to say, “I, for one, would never ask a tired servant to do even more!”

But I probably did exactly what Jesus is describing the last time I went to a restaurant and expected quick, cheerful service from my waitress without caring what kind of day she was having. Or maybe I myself was the servant, the last time I came home from my office and had to take kids to soccer, run to the bank, fix the faucet, sort out the bills, help with dinner, switch the laundry, prepare for class, and, answer an overdue work email on my smartphone on top of the rest of it.

I didn’t expect an award for any of it, because I know my job and my family are worth it. Jesus is simply saying, “Now, how about me. Am I worth it, too?”

He is worth it. Let’s ask the same question of Jesus the apostles asked and look at his answers in more detail: “Lord, increase our faith.”

First, he says, have the faith of a mustard seed: a stubborn little faith.

As St. Augustine points out: “A mustard seed looks small. Nothing is less noteworthy to the sight, but nothing is stronger to the taste. What does that signify but the very great fervor of inner strength of faith in the Church?”

A mustard-seed faith stubbornly believes in Jesus’s promise, in the face of long odds. It’s the kind of faith Habakkuk has in the First Reading.

His faith has been stretched to the breaking point by the disaster he sees around him. Fed up with the pain, he says, “How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?”

That is the kind of prayer God likes: a brutally honest prayer that calls God’s bluff. “Okay. You’re king of the universe and the Lord of my life. I believe it. So why is the universe so messed up and why are so many things going 100% wrong in my life?”

God’s answer will be the same one he gave Habakkuk.

“Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. … The just one, because of his faith, shall live.”

The message: Keep believing, and you will be glad you did. One day soon, the mountain that is blocking you will crumble and the tree that has sunk its roots into your life will be hurled into the sea.

Next, Jesus says to give your faith the same kind of effort you give to your family, your job — and your campfire.

St. Paul describes how this works in the Second Reading. “Stir into flame the gift of God,” he says. Other translations say “fan into flame the gift of God.” The idea is the same: Stir the dying embers of your faith to get a flicker of flame started. Feed the flicker with a little fuel and enough oxygen to grow it bit by bit into a blaze.

It’s a long process.

“It is in our power to kindle or extinguish this grace,” St. John Chrysostom said, “By sloth and carelessness it is quenched, and by watchfulness and diligence it is kept alive.”

What is needed? “As fire requires fuel, so grace requires our diligence, that it may be ever fervent,” he says. “It requires much zeal to stir up the gift of God.”

After you have done your duty to God, it is time to do more for God. After you have prayed, serve. After you have served, study. After you have studied, pray. Pray to Jesus in the morning, then help everyone get ready for the day. After that, listen to Father Mike Schmitz, Bishop Robert Barron, or whoever it is who feeds your faith. Then serve more, pray more, study more, and repeat.

Be humble. Be patient. Be diligent. Be obedient. In short: Be a servant.

Just like your workplace and your family, “The Lord also does not allow only one work or labor for you,” St. Ambrose says, “because so long as we live we must always work. Know that you are a servant overwhelmed by very much obedience.”

You don’t get awards for doing the dishes, and Jesus doesn’t give any awards for living your faith today, either. “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do,’” Jesus says.

If it seems like too much, remember what St. Paul said: “God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control,” so “bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

It’s the law of the gift: The more you give away, the more you receive. Our employers give us money and our families give us love. What does God give?

We proclaim it at every Mass: “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.”

From that vantage point, we will see just how little we gave him when we served him again and again, and we will be overwhelmed with gratitude with how much he has given us — everything, once and for all.

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Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story on Ex Corde. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.