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Monday, 26 September 2016

Homily for 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, By Fr Munachi E. Ezeogu, CSSp

Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4, 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14, Luke 17:5-10
 On the Gospel, Lord, Increase Our Faith

The story is told of a man who fell off a mountain cliff. Half-way down the cliff he succeeds in grabbing a branch of a tree. There he is, dangling on the branch, unable to pull himself up yet knowing that letting go of the branch he would definitely fall to his death. Suddenly the man gets an idea. He looks up to heaven and shouts, “Is anyone up there?” A voice comes from heaven, “Yes, I am here. I am the Lord. Do you believe in me?” The man shouts back, “Yes, Lord, I believe in you. I really believe. Please help me.” The Lord says, “All right! If you really believe in me you have nothing to worry about. I will save you. Now let go of the branch.” The man thinks about it for a moment and then shouts back, “Is anyone else up there?”

Is the man in the story a believer? O course, he is. He believes that God exists. He believes in the power of prayer. He believes that God is able to help him and save him from his predicament. And, yes, he prays to God. But if he truly believes in God as he claims he does, why then does he not take God on His word? Why does he not let go of the branch to which he is clinging for life? Is God not able to save him? Many of us laugh at the story because we can recognize ourselves in this man. We believe in God, but when the going gets tough and things do not work out as we expect we take matters into our own hands or look for help elsewhere. We believe, yes; but we are people of little faith

The apostles too, the gospels tell us, are men of little faith. They believe in Jesus and follow him, but when they see the soldiers approaching in the garden of Gethsemane they abandon Jesus and flee. They are men of little faith. The big difference between us and the apostles is that whereas we often see ourselves as keeping the faith all right, the apostles see themselves as men of deficient faith. They know their faith lacks something. So in today’s gospel, they come to Jesus and say to him, “Lord, Increase our faith!" As the saying goes, he who does not know, and does not know that he does not know, is a fool. But he who does not know, and knows that he does not know, is a wise man. The apostles know that they their faith is not adequate. And they take steps to improve their faith. What steps have we taken in the past one year to develop our faith? How many retreats, seminars or bible study classes have we attended? How many books have we read? These are means through which the Lord increases our faith.

In response to the request of the apostles to increase their faith, Jesus tells them the parable about the unprofitable servant who comes back from plowing the field and proceeds straight away to prepare supper for his master and to wait on him while he eats. Only after the master’s needs are fully satisfied does the master then give the servant leave to attend to his own need for food and rest. How does this parable answer the request of the apostles for an increase of faith. Jesus is saying that if we have mature faith we would put the will and pleasure of God first in our lives at all times. If we have faith we will not grumble and complain that we have been working for God all day long, now we are tired and it is God’s turn to attend to our needs. Rather we will forget ourselves and work ourselves to death in God’s service, knowing that God will come to our aid when and how He deems right.

Faith for my deliverance is not faith in God. Faith means, whether I am delivered now or not, I will stick to my belief that God loves and cares for me. This is the mistake of the young man caught in the mountain cliff. He has faith in his own deliverance, not in God infinite power to save and unfailing love for him. God’s unconditional love for us demands only one proper response from us, our unconditional love and service of God. So many of us Christians today believe that true and mature faith consists in our ability to obtain miracles from God. The truth that today’s gospel shows us is that mature faith consists not in how much God attends to our immediate needs but in how willing we are to serve God unconditionally, without counting the cost. Let us today join the apostles in asking the Lord to increase our faith.

On the Epistle, Recipe for Enthusiasm in the Faith

The late archbishop Fulton J. Sheen used to say that as Christians we are God’s chosen people but from the way we live out our faith one would think that we are God’s frozen people. What is the key to enthusiasm in living the Christian life? How can we serve the Lord with dynamism? In today’s second reading from Second Timothy Paul shares with Timothy his recipe for enthusiasm in the faith.
Second Timothy was the last letter that Paul wrote. Paul wrote it when he was “chained like a criminal” in a prison in Rome ( 2:9) expecting to be put to death any time. “The time of my departure has come” (4:6), he writes. So this letter can be seen as Paul’s last will and testament to his “beloved child” Timothy (1:2). Paul gives Timothy the example of his own life, how he has remained fearless and dynamic in bearing witness to the Lord even in the face of impending death. He shares with Timothy his recipe for enthusiasm in serving the Lord. The recipe Paul gives Timothy can be summarized in one short sentence: Believe it, live it, and teach it.

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands (1:6). The opening words of the reading give us Paul’s purpose in writing these last words to Timothy. It is to remind him to rekindle the gift of God that is within him. Even though Timothy is a bishop he still needs to be reminded that there are gifts that God has given him for the service of the church which still lie dormant within him. The same can be said of any of us who have received the laying on of hands – at baptism, confirmation or ordination. Some of us think that we have no gifts. Maybe it is more correct to say that we have not yet rekindled the gift of God within us. But the gift is there.

For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline (1:7). What is this gift that God has given us? It is the spirit of God Himself. This spirit is not a spirit of cowardice or frozenness. It is the spirt that gives us power in our relationship with God, love in our relationship with our neighbour, and self-discipline in our relationship with ourselves. The Greek word used here for power is dynamis. This is what makes us dynamic sons and daughters of God. It empowers us to serve the Lord with dynamism as opposed to lukewarmness.

In the second part of the reading Paul spells out three practical effects that will be seen in our lives when we rekindle the gift of the Holy Spirit that lies dormant within us: (1) We shall live out the faith in our lives without fear of suffering or death: “Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God” (1:8). (2) We shall believe the sound doctrine that comes from the apostles and not water it down: “Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1:13). (3) We shall guard and hand on to others (teach) the deposit of the faith that has been handed down to us: “Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us” (1:14).

The endings of these last three verses give us a key to how we can obtain and maintain enthusiasm. Put the endings of these three verses together and you get the answer: “relying on the power of God … in Christ Jesus … with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.” The word enthusiasm comes from two Greek words, enmeaning in, and theos meaning God. Paul is saying that it is by immersing ourselves into God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that we rekindle the life of God within us. With that we no longer live as God’s frozen people but as God’s chosen people in dynamism, love and self-discipline.

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