6 October 2019
Habakkuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4
2 Timothy 1:6-8,13-14
A certain man asked his 14 year old son to wash his car. It was his first time to ask the son to do this. The man normally got the car washed at the local garage but hadn’t the time to go there that day. The son’s reaction was to ask the father: “How much will you give me for doing it?” The father was very upset and sad. He replied: “Ever since your birth I took care of you, loved you, fed you, clothed you, sent you to a good school. I never once asked you to pay for this. Loving you as I do how could I have asked you to pay me?”
In the gospel today 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 when we have done our best. Have we not only done our duty? How could we fail to do what God asks of us in response to all God’s blessings to us? The whole idea of merit, 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. We have done no more that our duty”. However, God would not want us to respond only out of a sense of duty but as an act of love, of gratitude for all he gives daily.
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. 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. In the overall teaching and life of Jesus he continually speaks about his Father and ours too being a God of total love, a God of mercy, compassion and loving concern. Unfortunately fundamentalists, those who take the gospel literally will point to certain passages where Jesus seems to be speaking about a God who will punish us if we do wrong. But these must be interpreted in the context in which they are written. When put into the overall lifestyle of Jesus, of his teaching and his attitude to outcasts, prostitutes, sinners we see Jesus speaking about a God of love. Our loving father is not interested in following the ways in which we often act here on earth. This is a merit or profit and loss approach. If I study I will probably pass my exams, if I work I will earn wages, if I please my parents they will love me but if I do what displeases them they may punish me. This really is a conditional love whereas God’s love for us is always unconditional.
People will then say: why try to be good if God loves us unconditionally? Well, the Christian answer is simply. How could I fail to do what God asks of me except in gratitude for all he has done? So our response to God is what Jesus speaks of in the gospel – a response of thanks and praise in action, not just trying to gain God’s favour. Should we not remember that we can never earn God’s love because he loves us before we can do anything to earn it and how could we lose God’s love from God’s side if he never withdraws it. Perhaps we should pray often to have the mind and heart of Jesus.
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’. It is best not to try and understand faith as a quantity of something called grace which increases or decreases according to our good or bad actions.
In the story at the beginning the son acted more as an employee than as a true son. The man’s wife on the other hand does all she has to do as a housewife and mother because she loves her husband very much. She has a loving relationship with him and over the years has come to trust her husband totally. Perhaps this is the best way to describe what faith is in the Christian sense. Faith is 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. This is way of the wife with her husband but more especially of us and God.
If we understand faith in this way it has many consequences which Jesus also explained.
First of all, faith is not just about being a follower of a religious system and feeling obliged to follow the rules out of a sense of duty. If we only know about God instead of really knowing God this will be our attitude. Secondly, it is not just a doctrine which we must agree with totally. More importantly, it certainly is not about trying to fulfill all the requirements of a perfect moral system.
Perhaps instead of saying ‘I have the faith’ it is more appropriate to say ‘I become a person of faith’. 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. The more I experience God’s great love for me, the more I will respond.
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.
“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