When the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith (Luke 17.5) they speak for us all. Everybody feels that they do not have enough faith. I have great sympathy with the father of the epileptic child who, asked by Jesus if he believed in him, cried out: ‘I do believe. Help me to overcome my unbelief’ (Mark 9.24). We are people of faith, but often we are also people of questioning, of doubts and uncertainties. But let us remember this. Faith does not require the absence of doubt. Faith is shown in commitment, in the ability to give as generously as we can to God. Doubts come and go, but faith is the ability to set our course and stick to it. Marriage is an act of faith. Young people set out on a course of studies in an act of faith. Even in the hard world of commercial reality, there sometimes needs to be a launching forth without any guarantee of success.
At first glance Jesus’s reply to the disciples sounds rather discouraging, almost like a rebuke. Jesus’s words about the servants can also sound like a criticism: If things go well, you are just doing your duty, Jesus tells them (17.7-10). Well, it certainly is a robust call to do our duty, each and every one of us. But in context, it is more like promise and an encouragement. Be people of faith, Jesus tells them, and through God you will achieve great things, as astonishing as a tree uprooting itself and planting itself in the sea. Just as no one could envisage that, so it will be impossible to describe the great things that faith will achieve – faith maintained in the face of interior questionings and external pressures to give up.
If Jesus had told them that they would be the foundations of the church and that it would be found in every country of the world, it would have been incomprehensible to them. But that is what came about, and we here today are the proof if it. A small band of disciples around Jesus has become a spiritual presence in every corner of the earth and has survived scepticism and persecution. Faith creates new and sometimes startling possibilities. Faith is creative. God calls us to be a people of faith and see where it leads us.
The message of our first reading from Habakkuk is a similar call to faithfulness. It was composed around 600 BC when the Babylonian armies of Nebuchadnezzar were taking control of Judah and bending it to pagan will. Under this pressure, society is cracking, and the prophet Habakkuk sounds like someone of our own time when he sees around him violence, corruption, and bitter divisions. The reply of God is to wait. God’s will cannot be frustrated. There will be a fulfilment at a time and in a way of God’s own choosing. Those whose souls lack spiritual nourishment will find it harder to keep going. By contrast those who persevere in faith will find that God gives them abundant life (2.4-5).