“The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith.’ He replied, ‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed….'” Luke 17:5-10
Every year toward the end of winter, in February and March, there is the mesmerizing sight of a California landscape with the brilliant carpet of orange, yellow, and gold beneath the bare trunks of vineyards.
Of course, it’s the mustard, growing wild or carefully planted by growers, looking forward to grapes, and the wine harvest, which takes place now in September and October. More than a feast for the eyes, the mustard provides the all-important nutrients and phosphorus to the grape plants.
According to legend, years ago, Franciscan friars first spread the mustard seed while cultivating their Mission churches. Planting was simple. The field workers carried the seeds in sacks hung on their backs, and each bag had a small hole, so as the farmers walked, the seeds would scatter.
Today’s gospel tells us how we need to grow our faith, with the cultivation of the mustard seed to do beautiful things in his name. We, too, are capable of being those faithful stewards of the Lord.
Earlier in Luke’s gospel, the gospel writer details the teaching message of Christ in the Beatitudes, and now each week, we are following Christ on his journey to Jerusalem, and learning the details of this engagement with souls in need of Jesus’s healing, comfort, and personal attention.
On most Sundays, we are given only a short passage from the gospel, without much context. Frankly, it’s essential to read the entirety of Luke 17, because this fills out point of the story about the need to increase faith with the powerful image of mustard seed. Here is the conclusion of Luke’s narrative:
Jesus said to his disciples, “There are bound to be causes of stumbling, but woe to the person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone around his neck than to cause the downfall of one of these little ones. So be on your guard.
If your brother does wrong, reprove him: if he repents, forgive him. Even if he wrongs you seven times in a day and comes back to you seven times saying ‘I am sorry,’ you are to forgive him.
No wonder the apostles and followers of Jesus are asking him to “increase their faith,” we need this special grace to live and fulfill these commands.
Examples of resourceful servants abound and make for saints. This time of liturgical year from September to November, we celebrate the lives of the most potent saints, that lead to All Saints and All Souls day.
This Tuesday is the feast day of the most beloved, and perhaps the single most influential saint, who still touches the minds and hearts of millions. Of course, I’m referring to Saint Francis of Assisi, a saint for all people, whatever Christian denomination or spiritual background. Francis is remembered in legend and stories that grow the gospel of Jesus, like the mustard seed.
Here’s a short story about Francis of Assisi — as narrated by my friend Father Jim Turro.
Father Turro writes:
One of the touching legends that sprang up around the holy memory of St. Francis tells how one day the saint walked up to an almond tree and said: Sister speak to me of God, and the almond tree blossomed.
This story in its way defines the best hopes of every Christian, for we have all heard the world address the same demand to us: sometimes shamefacedly, sometimes bluntly, sometimes subtly but always insistently, the world keeps saying: speak to me of God — do for me as Christ would.
This then should be our deeply cherished hope: that we may respond as beautifully, as dramatically, as did the almond tree.
That is to say, we must project our life as a pursuit of excellence so that the sheer strength and beauty of our life and work, our achievements, our thoughts, and speech will speak loudly and clearly to the world of God. (James Turro, “Reflections…path to prayer”)
Our Lady of Refuge, Castroville, CA