“Walking in Joyous Duty”
What is faith? Or, less ambitiously What is Jesus trying to say about faith in our gospel reading? Jesus is saying that faith is not something we quantify. Keep in mind that verse 6 is prompted by the apostles’ petition, “Increase our faith!” (verse 5). It is an understandable and well-intended request, especially when we consider what Jesus has just told them: “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive” (Luke 17:4). In other words, you do not stop offering forgiveness to the repentant sinner. Faced with such a teaching, who wouldn’t ask for “more” faith?
Jesus’ response suggests that the apostles’ request is misguided. He pivots from the question of quantity to the question of sufficiency. Faith “the size of a mustard seed” is sufficient. The mustard seed was known both for its miniscule size (1-2 millimeters in diameter) and for the large bush that it produced. It was therefore the perfect metaphor for small beginnings leading to big results. But the point of Jesus is not to quantify faith, but to affirm its power. God works through a speck of faith to empower us to forgive even the most annoyingly repetitive sinners.
Jesus then introduces a second metaphor: the slave who works without expectation of special treatment (verses 7-10). In so doing He compares forgiveness with the everyday tasks of discipleship. Such forgiveness may seem an extraordinary case of discipleship, but it is, in fact, quite ordinary. Forgiving the most repetitive sinner is no more extraordinary (or excusably refused) than tending the sheep or preparing dinner.
In a culture captivated by sensationalist news and highlight reels, it is easy to question our faith when it does not feel extraordinary. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with a mountaintop experience. But the most mundane act of faith carries extraordinary potential for transforming the world into the image of its Creator. Think of the great Catholic saints of the mundane, André of Montreal (who worked as a monastery porter, sacristan, and launderer) and John the Gardener (who assisted his local monastery in gardening duties, including the altar flowers). By approaching each ordinary task as an opportunity to live their faith, they discovered the extraordinary depth of God’s love for them and for the seemingly ordinary (but quite extraordinary!) people around them.