Hab 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2Tim 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10
“LORD, INCREASE OUR FAITH”
Today’s gospel begins with a request from the disciples of Jesus, that he should increase
their faith. Perhaps it would help us to understand the request if we look at its context. In
the four verses preceding today’s reading (Lk 17:1-4), Jesus makes two demands of his
companions. From these demands, the apostles recognized that Jesus was asking them to
do something that was not easy to attain. They knew that this could only be done by faith.
So, they asked for more faith.
1. THE CONTEXT OF THE REQUEST OF THE APOSTLES
There is no doubt, Jesus used quite some strong words:
a) First, He tells them to avoid scandals, causing others to sin. He said “It would be
better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for
him to cause one of these little ones to sin” (Lk 17:2:).
b) Next, He taught them his doctrine on forgiveness. He rejected the Old Testament
law of the talon: “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” And then he demanded that
his followers forgive always, without end, “seven times seventy times.” Jesus tells them:
“If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you
seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive
him.” (Lk 17:3-4). When the apostles ask Jesus to “increase our faith,” they are asking
Jesus to strengthen their belief in him and his new teachings.
2. THE RESPONSE OF JESUS TO THE REQUEST OF HIS APOSTLES
Jesus tells them that they do not need a lot of faith to be used by God or to see God work
in great ways. They need just as much faith as a mustard seed to realize great results,
because God is an awesome God! Faith at its core is “believing God”. Think about how
a skydiver puts his/her faith in a parachute. They jump out of a plane and trust that the
chute will open and enable them to float to the ground. Every time we get into an airplane
we are evidencing faith in the engineers that designed the plane. God wants us to trust
Him at least this much.
Jesus is not saying, “If you have enough faith you can doing crazy magic like
commanding a deeply rooted tree to cast itself into the sea.” He is not requesting that
we should go, trying to move mountains. The idea is that if we trust God we would see
mountains moved if that is what needed to happen. We see this again and again in the
Bible. Those who trust in God achieve great things; they do not lack blessings. St. Paul
tells us that God will do “exceeding abundantly beyond all we ask or imagine.” We may
not be able to see great works of God because we do not really think God can do those
3. AN ILLUSTRATION ON HOW FAITH WORKS
A 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?”
This man 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. Most of us tend to live “safe”. We want to
control the outcome of circumstances. We do not like having to put our full confidence
in what God alone can do. And that is the problem. We will never know the power of God
in our lives until we dare to let God work.
4. THE FAITH OF THE PROPHET, HABAKKUK
Looking at the first reading, the Prophet, Habakkuk, complains against God, for not
listening to his cries. He accuses God for turning a deaf ear to his problems. How often
when a crisis comes we concentrate on the crisis instead of on God. This is the common
fault of humanity. Our faith is strong when everything is going well, but when the crisis
hits we pray like Habakkuk but also like Habakkuk we say “you do not listen”, “you do
Habakkuk may well represent a good number of us in situations when everything seems
to be going wrong, when we feel that God is so distant and does not seem to care about
our problems. Sometimes, we even have questions about God and we wonder if God
exists or even if God is gone on holidays. In a similar way, the Jews, after escaping from
Egypt, always complained whenever they suffered a setback in the desert. They even said,
it was better in Egypt; they should never have left. What a short memory they had,
forgetting the miracle of the exodus! In one sense we could say the great sin of the Old
Testament is the SIN OF FORGETTING. The Chosen People forgot what God had done
for them and instead only looked at the difficulties around them. There, they sinned
grievously. God responded to Habakkuk, encouraging faith, saying: “…the just one,
because of his faith, shall live.”
The Bible does not promise that if you have enough faith every situation will work out
the way you want it to work or that you will get everything that you desire. If we have
faith, we will have the confidence that God knows what He is doing and we can trust Him
even when things do not seem to be going well. We do not get discouraged by
circumstances because in our faith we know that God controls the circumstances. He has
promised good to those who belong to Him.
5. ST. PAUL ENCOURAGES THE FAITH OF TIMOTHY
The Second Letter of St. Paul to Timothy, where the second reading came from, was the
last letter that Paul wrote. Paul wrote it when he was “chained like a criminal” in a prison
in Rome (2 Tim 2:9) expecting to be put to death any time. “The time of my departure
has come” (2 Tim 4:6), he writes. So this letter can be seen as Paul’s last will and
testament to his “beloved child”, Timothy (2 Tim 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 (2 Tim 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 (2 Tim 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 spirit that
gives us power in our relationship with God, love in our relationship with our neighbour.
It empowers us to serve the Lord with dynamism as opposed to lukewarmness.
6. A CALL TO COURAGE, IN THE FAITH
Are you facing some “mountain” in your life right now? It may be a physical need, a
financial need, a health need, a challenge you do not feel you can meet. We must remind
ourselves to trust God. He can meet the need. Put your confidence in His ability rather
than your own. Once you do this, hang on because you may be surprised at what God
In our daily living we make use of a lot of faith even without giving it a thought. It takes
❖ To trust God’s character and wisdom even in trials
❖ It takes faith to trust God to give you the right words when you are put on the spot
about your faith or to keep you quiet when that’s what is needed.
❖ It takes faith to trust that God will provide for our needs
❖ It takes faith to stand before the freshly dug grave of someone we love.
❖ It takes faith to wait for God to bring that “someone” into your life
❖ It takes faith to confront deep-seated bad behaviours rather than simply throwing up
your hands and saying, “That’s just the way I am”.
❖ It takes faith to be willing to serve God in an area that is outside of your “comfort
Faith is active trust. Jesus reminds us that our job is to walk by faith and not by sight. We
are to trust God’s Word and His proven character even when the mountain before us
seems overwhelming. Remember, St. Paul said he was given a thorn in the flesh and three
times he pleaded with God for it to be removed but the word from God to him was, ‘My
grace is enough for you: for power is at full strength in weakness.’ (2 Cor 12:9) He also
said, ‘There is nothing I cannot do in the One who strengthens me’ (Phil 4:13). ‘If God
is for us who can be against us?’ (Rom 8:31).
The gospels tell us that the apostles, also, are men of little faith. But 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. We need to ask ourselves therefore, what steps we
have 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.
We pray for the gift of unfailing faith!