Can faith grow? If faith is reduced to the assent given to a list of truths, it cannot grow. But, if faith is growing in an unconditional trust in the Lord, then, it is easy to realise that it can grow or diminish.
We believe in Jesus, but we do not trust him totally. We don’t have the courage to untie ourselves from certain habits, to make certain renouncements. Here we have a faith that needs to strengthen itself.
To explain growth in faith, Jesus employs a tree. If Jesus refers to a sycamore tree, then the allusion is to its very strong roots. The roots can withstand for 600 years and it is difficult to uproot them.
Jesus says that faith is capable of realising something as impossible as uprooting a sycamore or making a mulberry grow in the sea.
These miracles he spoke of refers to the inexplicable transformations, in our society and in the world when we really trust the word of the gospel and put it into practice.
Jesus says that for one who believes no irremediable situations exist. Those who trust in his word will be witnessing extraordinary and unexpected miracles.
Then he narrates a parable about a slave that leaves us a bit bitter and disillusioned. After a hard day’s work, the slave returns home tired.
The master, instead of complimenting him for the service done and inviting him to sit and eat a piece of bread, demands harshly, “First, serve me, after I am satisfied, you will eat supper.”
He makes use of the example to transmit his theological message. He wants to correct the Pharisaic spiritual guidance of that time that preached the religion of merits. They were saying that at the end of life, God will remunerate based on each one’s performance.
God, like a master who rewards well behaved servants corresponds perfectly to our logic. We are not aware that we are reasoning exactly like the Pharisees.
Anyone who practices virtue for merit puts themselves at the centre of his own interests.
The major trouble provoked by a religion of merit is reducing God to an accountant in charge of maintaining the books and signing accurately the debits and credits of each one. The parable wants to destroy this image of God.
Because of the idea that in doing good we acquire merit points before God is so rooted in us we feel uncomfortable at the prospect of having to repeat, “We are simple servants; we have not done nothing more than our duty.”
Jesus does not intend to underestimate good works. He, rather, tries to liberate us from a dangerous egoism.
Jesus wants us to understand that the Pharisaical behaviour of doing good works to merit a reward is foolish, because all that is good is always a gratuitous gift of God and not the merit of the person.
• Father Fernando Armellini SCJ