27Th Sunday In Ordinary Time (Lk. 17. 5-1)
Brothers and sisters I would like to make a few comments on our Gospel for today. The sayings recorded here are found only in Luke. A characteristic of his is that he often uses the master/slave comparison. In the gospels the disciples often get a bad press for not understanding the teaching of Jesus or for mis-interpreting it. Perhaps that is why Luke’s Jesus often tried to use simple stories and comparisons, a good example of which is today’s gospel. Here it is the relationship between master and slave as Luke understood it in his culture. The context here is Jesus accusing the Pharisees of false piety. Luke says the disciples should try to avoid the self-justifying of Pharisees. Luke is pointing out that in his culture one did not say thanks to a slave. So disciples should not expect thanks for doing what is commanded like slaves. This was not a question of good manners, but social obligation. V. 10 says we should acknowledge our position as slaves and not expect expressions of gratitude. Personally I am very quick to notice when someone does not express gratitude to me when I am expecting it. Yet, on the other hand, I am very slow to acknowledge that I have not said thanks when I should have.
I want to say a few words now about another example of gratitude. Nagai Hakase, a-bomb victim in Nagasaki was fond of the following words and they were inscribed on his tombstone. “We are useless servants who have done only what we were obliged to do.” He was quite humble . And even bed-ridden because of radiation sickness he was able to write much and greet and converse with many visitors who came to him. Helen Keller was one of those. Nagai Hakase is a good example of an ideal “useless servant” who does not expect expressions of gratitude and so is not dismayed when they are not forthcoming.
For a better understanding of these sayings of Jesus we might recall cases where we found it hard to accept the “I am sorry” of someone. Often family reconciliation is most difficult. We need to pray for the grace to accept always a sincere “I am sorry.” We can join this request to the disciples plea that the Lord “increase their faith.” This is a wonderful request because it recognizes how even faith is a gift from the Lord, and how so much more is an increase in faith. So we, too, this day ask that the Lord increase our faith.
In our everyday lives we often witness the accomplishment of things that were thought impossible, for example, putting a man on the moon. Genuine faith also often accomplishes things we never thought could happen. Greater faith can also illuminate our lives and especially our past. As we grow older we may become more aware of how we may have been a bad influence on others. We might be like the old man who is dying and starts to worry about twisting a road sign around to the opposite direction. He regretfully laments “How many I may have sent in the wrong direction.”. Are there people in my own life that I have sent in the wrong direction? If so, this might be a good time to ask the Lord for forgiveness.
When the disciples ask: “increase our faith.” They are showing us they knew how difficult belief is and how we must always be praying to the Lord for help in maintaining our faith. We also pray for prudence in helping and directing those entrusted to us. Let us include all of these intentions when we pray to the Lord to increase our faith.
By Fr. Jerry Cusumano, SJ