A man name Jack was walking along a steep cliff one day when he accidentally got too close to the edge and fell. On the way down he grabbed a branch, which temporarily stopped his fall. He looked down and to his horror saw that the drop below him was more than a thousand feet, and he couldn’t hang on to the branch forever.
So Jack began yelling for help, hoping that someone passing by would hear and lower a rope or do something.
“Help! Help! Is there anyone up there? Help!” Jack yelled.
No one heard him. He was about to give up when he heard a voice, “Jack, Jack. Can you hear me?”
“Yes, yes! I can hear you. I’m down here!”
“I can see you, Jack. Are you all right?”
“No! Yes! But, who are you, and where are you?”
“I am the Lord, Jack. I’m everywhere.”
“The Lord? You mean God?”
“Oh, God, please help me! I promise that if You get me down from here, I’ll really be a good person. I’ll go back to church and serve you for the rest of my life.”
“Easy on the promises, Jack. Now, here’s what I want you to do. Listen carefully.”
“I’ll do anything, Lord. Just tell me.”
“Okay. Let go of the branch.”
“I said, let go of the branch. Trust me. Let go.”
There was a long silence.
Finally Jack yelled, “Help! Help! Is there anyone else up there?” 1
If I ask, “Do you have faith? You would certainly say, yes! You do.” I agree with you that you do have faith. You do have faith because you were baptized. You come to church. You pray. We recite the Creed together every Sunday at church: “We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth . . .” There are many other signs and evidences that you have faith. You might wear a cross or a religious medal around your neck. You might carry a Rosary with you in your pocket. You might have it hung in your car. You may have statutes of Mary and the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the saints displayed at home. These religious symbols and activities are evidences that we have faith.
The disciples of Jesus also know that they have faith; but they feel that they do not have enough of faith. So they ask Jesus to ‘increase their faith.” We might feel the same way and also want to ask God to increase our faith. We feel that our faith is still small or little, we cannot do much with it. It is very interesting, however, to hear Jesus’ response: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”
I plan mustard green in my garden, and I know that a mustard seed is a very small one. So according to Jesus, we do not need a faith size of an apple or a watermelon. We only need it as small as a mustard seed. This means the size of faith is not important. Faith does not depend on the volume but on the strength and duration. Faith is more like a drop of superglue. We do not need a gallon of it to glue a broken piece of glass or plastic cup. We only need a few drops. So we do not have to wonder whether we have faith of not. We also do not need to know how much faith we have. So how do we know the strength of our faith?
Faith has various ascending degrees: assent, trust, and action. Assent means accepting, agreeing, or approving. Most of us have this degree of faith. We accept the doctrines of faith. We profess the Creed without problem. Some of us might even say it by heart. Faith is more challenging at the degree of trust.
Last week a parishioner shared with me his worry. He had helped to start a small company for another man; but when the company became stronger, he was laid off. He felt hurt and betrayed. Now he has been trying to start a new business, but the economy is very slow. He is afraid that he will lose everything, his house and his truck etc. How is he going to support his family? We pray and I also encourage him to trust in God. Then I remember this story.
For several times Mrs. Youngston came to her pastor to tell him, "I'm so scared! Joe says he's going to kill me if I continue to come to your church."
"Yes, yes, my dear," replied the pastor, more than a little tired of hearing this over and over. "I will continue to pray for you, Mrs. Youngston. Have faith - the Lord will watch over you."
“Oh yes, he has kept me safe thus far, only....."
"Only what, my dear?"
"Well, now he says if I keep coming to your church, he's going to kill YOU!"
"Well, now," said the pastor, "Perhaps it's time to check out that little church on the other side of town."
Well! It is easy to tell others to pray and to trust in God. It is easy to recite the Creed and to practice some religious activities. It is more challenging when we personally have to face crisis. When crisis hits home we would know whether we truly have faith or not. Crisis is the opportunity to show whether our faith is authentic or not. Our faith is authentic if we continue to hold on to our faith, to keep our trust in God and to faithfully carry out our duty whether we feel the presence of God in our life or not. We will have to learn to live with trust. God will carry us through the waves of life. When we are in crisis, it is important that we are faithful. When we are in crisis, it is important that we remember the good times in order to hold on to faith.
The third degree of faith is action. Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement and an extraordinarily faithful laywoman, was often approached by people who said things to her like, “You are a saint,” “You are so special – a true gift of God as a person.” She hated that! She was quite gruff with those who suggested these things. She’d say, “No, I’m not! I’m no different from you. If you value what I do, go do it yourself. You could, you know.” She detested any language that set her apart from others because she saw it as a cop-out, a way for people to rationalize why they were not more devoted to easing the suffering of the poorest. 2
It is easier to be an audience to watch a show than to be an actor on the stage. It is easier to applause and congratulates others for their achievements than to roll up our sleeves and to put our hands to work. Our faith will never get stronger if we do not put it into practice. St. James says, “Be doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his own face in a mirror. He sees himself, then goes off and promptly forgets what he looked like.” (James 1:22-24). He says further, “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17).
The more we have the works of faith, the stronger our faith will be. And Jesus is telling us that being a faithful servant is the sign of having strong faith. Each of us is called to be a servant. A priest is a servant to his people. A husband is a servant to his wife and his children. A wife is a servant to her husband and her children. Children are servants of their parents and their siblings. Teachers are servants of their students. Everyone is a servant of others. We are servants to the community. We are called to serve. We are servants for the Kingdom of God. A Christian is a servant in the world. Jesus wants us to adopt the attitude of a servant. “We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.” A faith-filled person is a servant.