A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke:
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.'”
The apostles said to the Lord: “Increase our faith.”
The Lord replied: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.”
The Lord can neither deceive nor be deceived, and He spoke the truth. If you had faith size of a mustard seed, you could say to the mulberry tree, “be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and then you would go home and get a shovel. And you would come back, and begin digging at the roots of that mulberry tree, hopefully at first, and then with flagging hope. Before long, you would find that the mulberry tree is far too big to uproot by yourself, and this would frustrate you, and you’d have to stop and think. Then, after you’d thought, you’d go off and find a hundred friends– or if you didn’t have a hundred friends, you would find a hundred strangers who also had faith, and you would ask them to follow you. Your hundred new companions would get a hundred shovels somehow, and you would come back, and a hundred and one of you would easily uproot that mulberry tree. This would take time and work and begging for help from people you’d rather not speak to, but you could do it.
And then you’d take the mulberry tree to the seashore, but you’d realize that a mulberry tree can’t be planted and survive in salt water, and you’d be near despair. You wouldn’t have much time to think, not with a tree uprooted and dying right in front of you. But there you’d be with a hundred new friends and a hundred shovels, and eventually you’d realize what was yours to do. Each friend would go off and gather others, everyone they knew, until there were a thousand of you at least, each bringing his or her own supplies for the effort. Some of you would stay and tend the roots of the tree somehow so it didn’t die, and that would be their vocation. The rest of you would find the nearest quarry and start digging up stones and gravel and transport them to the shore. And then you’d sell all you have and purchase enormous quantities of topsoil and drag it to the shore as well, and when you got there you’d find that the ones tending the roots of the tree had built you a boat while they waited. And then you and your thousand or more companions would get in the boat and start carrying stones out to sea in little trips and dropping them overboard, and then when the stones were piled so high they stuck well out of the top of the water, much farther than the high tide mark, you’d put down the gravel and the soil. Last of all you’d go and get the mulberry tree. Your multitude of friends and you would easily dig a hole in the new soil, and in that hole you’d plant the roots, and there you would be.
That is how faith works.
If you do not have faith, you’ll say to the mulberry tree: “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and then you will stand there cynically watching the mulberry tree, but nothing will happen. And you will say to yourself, “This is proof that faith cannot move trees,” when in fact it will be proof of your lack of faith.
This applies to more ordinary problems as well.
If there is something that is yours to do, and you resolve to do it for God’s sake, then by the grace of God, you will be able to do it. Not without work, not all alone, not without a flagging sense of hope and even the darkness that seems like despair sometimes. Not without the end product of what you set out to accomplish looking totally different from what you envisioned. You may not even know what God intended you to do until you accomplish it. But you will be able.
You might be like Saint Francis, who was told “rebuild my church” and went to get some stones to patch up a crumbling building, and then found himself doing something else. By the end of his life, he had rebuilt the Church. You might be like Saint Therese, who in her writing mentioned that she wished she was a martyr or a Doctor of the Church– but instead, in humility, consented to be Therese, and in being Therese as only Therese could, died patiently in excruciating pain and became a Doctor of the Church. You might be yourself. You might find out who you really are, when you thought you were quite different.
You will likely find out that you had a thousand flaws where you imagined you were strongest. You will also find out that God had blessed you with enormous strength in the places you imagined yourself weak. You will most likely discover that both were true at once– in your strength, great weakness, and in admission of weakness, strength.
And when this is over, and you’re looking at a mulberry tree that was uprooted and planted in the sea, you will say, “I am an unprofitable servant. I have only done what was mine to do,” and that will be right as well.
All you did was move a tree from one place to another. And the tree was not yours in the first place.
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself famously moved a Tree from Jerusalem to Golgatha, and died on it. In doing so, He instilled in you a tiny grain of faith, which is why you were also able to move that tree as well.
If you have no faith, you will stand at the foot of the Tree and say, “If you are the Son of God, come down!” and you will not see Him come down off the Tree. You will go home beating your breast. But those who have faith will stand close to the foot of the Tree, waiting, long enough to watch their Master eat the gall and drink the vinegar that His rebellious servants made for Him. Then their Master will give up the Ghost, casting the seed of faith upon whatever soil is nearby, whether it’s fertile or not. They themselves will take the Lord down from the Tree and plant Him somewhere else, and on the third day He will rise again. Then they can eat gall and drink vinegar and move the tree themselves, and die, and rise from the dead, and say, “we are unprofitable servants who only fulfilled our obligation.”
One way or another, each of us speaks to the Tree. Doing so is not an act of faith.
Faith is what happens next.
(image via Pixabay)
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