Homily for November 7th, 2016: Luke 17:1-6.
Today’s gospel reading gives us an example of Jesus using hyperbole. How so, you ask? Webster’s dictionary says that hyperbole is “a statement exaggerated fancifully, as for effect.” The American humorist Mark Twain was using hyperbole when he said: “The first time I ever saw
I could have bought it for 3 million dollars;
and it is the mistake of my life that I did not do so.” In Mark Twain’s youth 3
million dollars was like 300 million today. The statement is absurd – but also
very funny, which is of course the effect Mark Twain was aiming at. St. Louis
Helping people understand the power of faith is the effect Jesus was aiming at when he spoke the words in today’s gospel: “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.” That is as absurd as Mark Twain claiming he could have bought Louis for 3 million dollars. No one would want to a plant mulberry tree in the sea. The salt water would kill it.
What Jesus is actually saying is that with faith we can accomplish the impossible. What is faith, anyway? Many Catholics would probably say: faith is the list of truths that we profess every Sunday in the creed. That is not wrong. But faith in that sense is properly called the faith.
The primary meaning of faith is trust. Even in the Creed, we say “I believe in God.” To believe in someone is to trust that person. When we say we believe in God, we’re saying that we trust him enough to entrust our lives to him. Faith in that sense is not something that comes to us naturally. It is a gift. And the one who gives it to us is God.
Each time we come here we are praying that through his two tables of word and sacrament God will deepen and strengthen our trust in him. We are like the man in Mark’s gospel who comes to Jesus asking healing for his boy, who suffers terrible convulsions. Jesus asks the man if he truly believes that Jesus has power to heal. “I do believe,” the father replies. “Help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). With this gospel reading Jesus is inviting us to make that man’s prayer our own.