In this reading which continues the themes of faith and service, Jesus seems to be giving a warning about great expectations in the life of discipleship. Fr Adrian Graffy reflects.
5 The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ 6 The Lord replied, ‘Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.
7 ‘Which of you, with a servant ploughing or minding sheep, would say to him when he returned from the fields, “Come and have your meal immediately”? 8 Would he not be more likely to say, “Get my supper laid; make yourself tidy and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink yourself afterwards”? 9 Must he be grateful to the servant for doing what he was told? 10 So with you: when you have done all you have been told to do, say, ”We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty”.’
We continue reading teachings of Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem. There are two themes in these verses: faith and service. In both cases Jesus seems to be giving a warning about great expectations in the life of discipleship. We are not called upon to be high achievers in the life of faith and love.
We are not told why the apostles suddenly ask Jesus to help their lack of faith. Jesus’ reply is striking and hardly encouraging. The mustard seed, as Jesus teaches elsewhere, is the smallest of the seeds. Astonishingly, Jesus implies that the apostles do not have faith even that small. If they did, then they could do extraordinary wonders. Perhaps what Jesus is teaching is that faith is part of a completely different order, in which different rules apply. The desire for faith, the sense that one’s faith needs to increase, is already something precious. The presence of God in a person’s life is more important than striving for a deeper faith.
A short parable follows. The true disciple is to look upon himself as a ‘useless servant’. This is the literal translation of verse 10. This would surely have sounded strange to many of the disciples of Jesus. Once again the words of Jesus are challenging. Is it right that we should consider whatever we do simply as a duty? The point here is to realise that God does not demand huge achievements from us. To seek to serve is all that is necessary, for Jesus himself came to serve and not to be served. The love of God in a person’s life is far more important than striving for great achievements even in the service of God.
Does faith in God lie at the very heart of my life?
Am I content to be a ‘useless servant’?
Let us pray for openness to the words of Jesus, especially when they challenge us and perplex us.
Let us pray for the gifts of true faith and true love.
Rev Dr Adrian Graffy is a member of the Vatican Commission that takes a lead in Bible scholarship, interpretation and promotion in the Catholic Church.
Rev Dr Graffy said of his five-year appointment by Pope Francis in 2014: “It is an honour to be nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. I feel humbled and very much look forward to being of service to His Holiness and the Church.”
He added: “A great deal has been achieved in England and Wales in recent years by many co-workers to advance Biblical scholarship and the provision of easy-to-use resources. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them and the Bishops’ Conference Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis for their efforts to promote understanding and love of the Bible, particularly through the publication of the teaching documents, The Gift of Scripture and the study guide to Verbum Domini, The Word of the Lord.”
Rev Dr Graffy received his doctorate in Sacred Scripture from the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome in 1983. He taught for over 20 years in St John’s Seminary in Wonersh, and is Chair of the National Scripture Working Group, which is an instrument of the Department for Evangelisation and Catechesis of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. Fr Graffy is a past director of Brentwood’s Commission for Evangelisation and Formation and parish priest of Christ the Eternal High Priest in Gidea Park, Essex. Among his publications are the Gospel of Mark and the Letter to the Romans (Alive Publishing).
Listen to BBC Essex interview with Fr Adrian Graffy