St. Therese has an upside-down interpretation of the mustard seed of faith that rings true.
The life of faith is the greatest, most exhilarating life in the world. Sometimes. Other times it is the most tedious, thankless life in the world.
It’s supposed to be that way.
The Church explains why in Sunday’s readings, the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C.
A Sunday warning: You may not believe anything Jesus has to say, at first.
First, he says “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.”
Um … I don’t know about you, but I can’t do that, and no one I know can. Does that mean we don’t have even a smidgeon of faith?
Second, he 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’?”
It seems to me like most of the congregation should raise their hands. That’s exactly what we would say.
Few of us would say what Jesus says is the expected response to such a servant: “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.”
But think again and what Jesus says makes a lot of sense. First, the mustard seed.
I love St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s take on the mustard seed. She wrote, “for a soul whose faith equals but a tiny grain of mustard seed, God works miracles, in order that this faith which is so weak may be fortified; yet for his intimate friends, for his Mother, he did not work miracles until he had put their faith to test.”
In other words, according to her, Jesus is not saying, “any amount of faith can do miracles.” He is saying, “Only small amounts of faith can do miracles.”
That’s not the usual way that passage is interpreted, but she’s a Doctor of the Church, and it does make sense. If we think back on the early days of our faith, we can remember those kinds of miracles: Obstacles disappeared for us, heaven and earth moved to help us, and we were showered with spiritual favors.
But what about our lives when our faith matured? That brings us to Jesus’ second statement, about the servant coming in from laboring just to do more work.
Actually, we treat servants like that all the time — and we are servants who are treated like that.
People today generally have more than one field of labor. It could be your workplace and your family; it could be your yard and your house; it could be the pain you suffer and the things you need to get done.
We ask restaurant servers to do our bidding, and they have often had a bad day. When our servers get home, there is more to do, even though they just got finished serving.
When I leave work, I come home to more work: dishes, the dog, and the kids. When my wife is through with teaching or chauffeuring children all day, she faces piles of laundry and kids’ schoolwork.
This is what the life of faith is: When you are finished doing your duty to God, you aren’t finished doing your duty to God. He isn’t just in church, and he isn’t just in prayer. He is in every aspect of your life.
So, the life of faith starts in glory and ends in the grind. You can use this to your advantage.
When life is hard, remember the days that your mustard-seed faith was so richly rewarded. And when life is glorious, don’t forget that it has to be translated into a hard slog of real action.
St. Paul describes how. In the Second Reading, he counsels Timothy to “stir into flame” his original gift of faith.
Remembering the glory days will get him through difficulties — just as it did for Paul, who points out that he is writing this in chains from prison.
“Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God,” he says.
This also works in reverse.
Sunday’s first reading is from Habakkuk, who is sick of life’s hardships. “How long, O LORD?” he complains. “I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene.”
The Lord answers with a vision of future glory. “The vision still has its time,” God says, “and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.”
Our life of faith started when God reached down from heaven to touch us, and it will end when he draws us up to heaven to touch him.
When following Jesus becomes a grind, remember the glory days — and know that far better days are coming.
Will Heaven be a big disappointment?