The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” The Lord replied, “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.
“Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
About a week ago, I was a guest in the house of a sister who runs a school. It just so happened that I was leaving right when the parents were dropping their kids off at school. I couldn’t help but marvel at how the parents dramatically said goodbye to their little ones. It was as if the kids were about to embark on an arduous and uncertain journey. While the kids couldn’t wait to get away and be with their friends, it was the parents who were really suffering the separation. I couldn’t help but think back to my childhood. That my parents would accompany me to school was inconceivable!
In today’s culture where children are treated like princes and princesses, I asked myself: what kind of message are adults sending to their children? Even if they are said out loud, I can imagine phrases such as: “be careful, people can hurt you out there! You can only be happy with me! I will protect you against this untrustworthy world!”
How can a child have any trust in the world when they grow up with this daily message, transmitted with such strong, affectionate undertones?
Our openness to trust in the world outside depends on a lot on how we were raised, on what kind of messages we received when we were young. Granted, we always have a choice. We can always say, “Those were my parents’ fears, not mine.”
Sooner or later, we realize that this mistrust lives within us. But, if we aren’t careful, it can contaminate our spiritual lives. We can end up distrusting even God!
You see, trust is a way of living. It’s no surprise, then, that today’s Gospel follows the last few Sunday gospel readings. Remember the sons of the merciful father, the dishonest steward, the rich man? They were all people who distrusted. And when you don’t trust, you close yourself off, you only think of yourself, you defend what you have, you hide…
He who trusts gives himself over to the other. He faces the world with an attitude of gracious benevolence. He looks upon the other – to use an expression of C. Rogers – with an unconditionally positive gaze. This has nothing to do with naivety. He who trusts accepts the risk of being disappointed. I trust if I accept the fact that I need help, if I realize that I am not enough on my own. The rich man could never trust. He is too full of himself. He doesn’t even realize that there is someone other than himself!
He who feels powerful and rich doesn’t trust. Rather he is anxious to control and to defend. On the contrary, whoever serves life can’t help but trust because he has to wait for life to provide him with food to live. The “useless servant” is able to trust. Here “useless” refers to the person that serves freely, without any utility, without being paid, without any hopes of profit. The servant who serves simply to serve is a man that trusts, a man who confronts life with the certainty that he won’t go hungry.
Jesus warns his followers who didn’t consider themselves to be useless, but necessary. They expected payment and used their service as an opportunity for power. The Gospel probably refers to those who started to live out their role as a way of exercising power over others.
Plowing and keeping sheep are two verbs that recall apostolic activities. To plow means so spread seeds, to evangelize, to proclaim the Word. To keep the sheep means to take care of the flock, to accompany the community. Here we are talking about preaching and governing. Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon that those who live out these roles allow fear to take root. Their flock becomes like monsters to them and they no longer trust.
Seeing that life is confrontational, trust can’t be increased: either you trust or your don’t. It is a lifestyle. Whoever thinks that they can increase their faith, like the disciples in this Gospel verse, has an economic view of life. Trust, however, evades the logic of those who want to improve, to advance, or to invest. Trust is a way of living in relationship with the world. In relationships, either you give yourself or you back out. Remember that trust is the only way to heal broken relationships: on the banks of the Tiberias, Jesus restores his trust in traitor Peter.
Whenever we imagine the world to be some monstrous place, whenever we feel like everyone is out to get us, trusting is going to be tough. The same thing occurs in our relationship with God. If He seems like some master, or judge, or enigmatic distributor of goods and evils, trusting in Him is not going to be easy.
If we continue to feel suffocated by that embrace of distrust, we can always free ourselves – delicately – by reminding ourselves and others that we will certainly come back home safe and sound after this new day in the world.
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