3 October 2010
Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4
2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
A certain woman had two teenage daughters. She told them that her cleaning woman would be away for two months as her only daughter was about to give birth to her first baby and she wanted to be with her. She asked her two daughters to help her with the cleaning of the house during that period. All she asked of them was to use the vacuum cleaner once a week and do some dusting also. They asked their mother: ‘how much will you pay us for this?’ The mother was very hurt and amazed. She replied: ‘ever since your birth I loved you, took care of you, fed you, clothed you, and sent you to a very good school. I never once asked you to pay me for this. Loving you as I do how could I have asked you to pay me?’
To serve God is not a duty but a privilege. The most important quality to bring to that service is love. What sort of spirit do we bring to our worship and service of God?
In this gospel Jesus is telling us that we cannot claim anything from God because of any good we do. We can never put God into our debt. We can never make claims on him even when we have done our best. Have we not only done our duty? How could we fail to do what God asks of in response for all his goodness to us? The whole idea of merit or reward must be abandoned in our approach to God. It is a warning against a book-keeping mentality. As Jesus says in the gospel: “So with you when you have done all that you have been told to do, say: we are merely servants”.
It is not easy for most of us to think like this. Many of us in the Catholic Church have been brought up with the idea of reward and punishment, to see God as a kind of divine book-keeper. If we do God’s will God will bless us, if we do wrong or sin God will punish us or even send us to hell if we sin badly. This is totally false and quite the opposite of what Jesus taught. Jesus continually speaks about his Father and ours too as being a God of total love, a God of mercy, compassion and loving concern. When we put this into the overall lifestyle of Jesus, of his teaching and his attitude to outcasts, prostitutes and sinners we see Jesus speaking about a God of love. We try then to do God’s will as an act of gratitude and praise to God for the totally free, unmerited gift of his love.
Since we are used to doing many things ourselves and are rewarded for this, because of our talents and gifts we may think that by being virtuous and good we will earn God’s love. If we could only realize how totally opposite this is to the message of Jesus who came to reveal the sheer gift of all God gives and who wants us to accept it freely, humbly and for being grateful for the gift of his friendship and love.
We try to do good as a response to God because this is what God wants from us as an act of gratitude and also to witness to others by our loving concern and compassion what kind of God we believe in.
There is one other important point in today’s gospel and that is in the opening verses in which the disciples ask Jesus: ‘Increase our faith’. He tells us that a grain of authentic faith can achieve great things. Faith is not just about believing certain doctrines; it is about remaining faithful. It is, first and foremost, about faithfulness to God. Faithfulness is not just a matter of dogged determination. It finds its strength in God whose faithfulness is a constant theme in the Bible from start to finish. Faith is best seen as a relationship. It consists in living in a dynamic union with someone, someone in whom we place our trust because we know that he / she loves us. If we understand faith in this way it has many consequences which Jesus also explained. Faith is the total commitment on all levels of our life to God, remembering that he has, first of all, totally committed his life to us even to Jesus being crucified for us.
So if we see faith in terms of a relationship we will need to grow in faith. This takes time. Look at how long it takes to develop human skills, to become a good musician, a good parent, a good husband or wife, a good priest or religious etc. God knows it takes time and he is very patient with us. Faith grows quietly because it is God’s gift and it unfolds in God’s time. Faith grows strong if we nurture it by prayer, by the sacraments, daily fidelity to God’s love, especially by doing God’s will according to our calling in life. Maybe we need to pray at least once daily for a very great increase of faith, trust and love.
In this sense faith is an encounter with Someone we believe loves us and who invites us into a loving relationship, in order to become a partner of his in his work. It begins at baptism but since faith is life it has to grow toward maturity, to develop. Jesus was always faithful to the will of his Father which finally led to his death on the cross, the true meaning and outcome of faith – giving oneself totally to the other in a relationship no matter what the cost. We see this in many people who care for their children, parents, relatives, friends or neighbours, at great cost to themselves.
“Heavenly Father, praise and thank you for the gift of faith, your invitation to us to enter into a loving relationship with you, Jesus and the Spirit. Give us all a great increase of Faith, Trust and Love. Amen”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA