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Sunday Scripture: Mustard seeds and mulberry trees

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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

By Father Timothy Schehr

Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time: Habakkuk 1:2-2:4; 2 Timothy 1:6-14; Luke 17:5-10

Mustard seeds and mulberry trees. Is there any connection? We can be sure if Jesus brings such disparate things together they must serve in some way to teach a lesson about faith. Let’s read on and discover what the lesson is.

The 12 apostles have asked Jesus to increase their faith. They have just heard a stern warning from Jesus about leading people astray. It would be better, He tells them, to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around the neck than to be a bad influence on “one of these little ones.”
And Jesus followed that lesson up with a challenge to keep forgiving offenders if they repent, even if they offend seven times a day. But where are we to find the strength to give constant good example and to forgive so many times? Little wonder the apostles plead with Jesus to help their faith grow a little stronger. And since growth is the topic, reference to a seed is made to order.

Any gardener knows seeds can lead to big results. It is no different in the spiritual realm. Jesus challenges His apostles to strive for just the smallest amount of faith. Once they gain just a little of it they will marvel at the things they can accomplish. They could even command a mulberry tree to be uprooted and planted in the sea and it would do just that!
But why would anyone want a mulberry tree in the sea? On the other hand, it is a much less alarming prospect than someone being cast into the sea with a huge stone around the neck. But maybe we are missing the point. Jesus has nothing against mulberry trees; He is playing on the huge contrast between a seed and a tree.
A small amount faith can accomplish great things. There is no lack of examples in the Bible. In 2 Kings 5 a few little faith-filled words from a servant girl got a powerful general started on a journey that would bring him healing in his body and in his soul. Through faith the prophet Daniel held his ground before powerful kings and even lions.
The first reading offers us yet another example. We listen to a prophet as he works through his own doubts about God’s protective love and then finally comes out on the side of faith. This prophet’s name is Habakkuk. Accent that second syllable and pronounce his name HaBAKkuk. This prophet is worried because his world is threatened by the most powerful empire of the day. Nebuchadnezzar amassed the great army of Babylon that swept through much of the world known to the biblical authors. After a long siege even David’s great city of Jerusalem was captured and destroyed.
So Habakkuk has plenty of reason to worry. The first words we hear from him are “How long O Lord?” He wants to know when God is going to step in to set things right again. He gets an answer almost right away. God tells him the divine plan in still unfolding and that it “will not disappoint.” It helps to know that before his book concludes Habakkuk makes a wonderful statement of faith: “…though the fig tree blossom not nor fruit be on the vines…Yet will I rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God” (Habakkuk 3:16-17).

In other words, even when there is no tangible evidence to support his position, Habakkuk is holding out for God to bring life where there is none to be seen.

Paul is saying pretty much the same thing the second reading. He reminds his trusted associated Timothy “to stir in flame,” the spark he has inside. The gift of the Spirit may be invisible to the naked eye. But let it grow and do great things!

Father Schehr is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.

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