Some translations of two words in today's gospel
obscure the point of this passage.
First, there's “douloi, the Greek word for slave.
Our Catholic New American Bible translates it as servants.
Other translations call them “hired workers” or “employees.”
But it really does mean slaves.
Jesuit Fr. Dennis Hamm observes that,
in first century Israel slavery was simply a fact of life,
with two-thirds of the population either slaves or former slaves.
Fr. Hamm says that both Jesus and the early Christian writers
used slavery as a positive metaphor
to describe human relationships with God.
Then there's that adjective that's translated as “miserable.”
Other versions translate it as
worthless, unprofitable, useless, or unworthy.
Presbyterian scripture scholar Ken Bailey renders it
as those “to whom nothing is owed,”
meaning that our relationship with God is parallel to a slave.
God doesn't owe us anything
for doing what we are supposed to do.
So this gospel teaches us humility.
We are God's people,
and we're expected to do good.
We're expected to do our best.
And once we've done that,
God doesn't owe us for it.
There's nothing we can do to put God in debt to us.
In today's first reading we heard the prophet Habakkuk
complaining to God about injustice.
But God doesn't owe us justice.
God is justice, that right relationship that brings peace.
God gives us life
and gives us the ability to love
and to serve in the ways of right relationship that create justice.
Still, we get discouraged.
Like Habakkuk we look around and see oppression and violence.
We see war and famine and destruction.
We cringe at the devastation of poverty.
We are aghast at the deep disrespect for people and planet.
Seeing all that, knowing injustice is rampant,
what gets us up out of bed in the morning?
What moves us?
Some days it might be family, the kids, friends.
Other days it might be to keep a promise.
Others it might be that we just don't want
to suffer the consequences if we don't get up and go to work.
Whatever gets us moving, it reveals a relationship—
with people, with the world,
with that gracious mystery we call God.
Whatever gets us moving, we can call it faith.
It's what we are loyal to, have a vision about, what we care for.
It's what we believe in.
It can be strong... and still falter.
It can be weak... and still hold up.
The gospel gives us another lesson in humility
when Jesus tells us we don't need a big bunch of faith,
that we can move mountains with trust
that's the size of a tiny mustard seed.
He had to be using that rhetorical device called hyperbole
to make a point,
because I haven't seen anybody but coal miners
moving any mountains lately.
But I have seen people who are changing the world.
Last week I went to a presentation
by the Advocates for a Clean Lake Erie,
a group of ordinary citizens who are trying
to put pressure on local and state officials
to start here the same process
that cleaned up Chesapeake Bay.
And there's a group of local priests
who are part of a national effort to end racism
in our Catholic Church.
And then there was Tuesday,
when members of the League of Women Voters
stood at every library to get people to register to vote.
And Wednesday Tree Toledo helped two clients of Lott Industries
plant a Blue Spruce in memory of a staff member who,
they said, had been really nice to them.
It's like anthropologist Margaret Mead said,
that we should “Never doubt that a small group
of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed,” she said, “it's the only thing that ever has.”
These folks are changing the world.
Then there's a family, members of this assembly,
who bought a newer car this week.
Instead of trading in the old one,
they had a mechanic check it over to make sure it was still safe
and then gave it to a local refugee family through USTogether.
It's like Pope Francis said, commenting on today's gospel,
that the mustard seed is small,
but faith that size is enough
“to do things that are humanly impossible, unthinkable.”
The faith of these people, and many others in our town,
is making a difference.
Think about holy people we've heard about.
They didn't set about to do big things.
They had a vision.
For Mother Teresa it was the conviction that every human
has the right to dignity, even in poverty and facing death.
She wrote about the years when she felt abandoned by God,
long years when she kept on helping one person at a time.
Through all that,
her conviction sparked enough faith to keep her going.
For Malala Yousafzai
it was the belief that every girl has a right to education.
She lived that belief and was shot for it,
and kept it through her recovery, and she still keeps going.
She calls us to remember that “One book, one pen, one child,
and one teacher can change the world.”
Some people who do little deeds of justice end up being famous.
But most of us end up unknown to the world,
even to close neighbors, and friends, even to family.
You probably don't think you've moved any mountains.
You doubt if you've even shifted a pebble in the road.
But I see you doing it anyway.
You keep up on issues and talk about them with your friends.
You write letters to the Blade and letters to officeholders.
You help people.
You take part in organizations that work for peace and justice.
You keep on trying, with that little mustard-seed faith,
to stir into flame
the Spirit that makes you strong, and loving, and wise.
I thank God for your witness to the Gospel!
Holy Spirit Catholic Community
Saturdays at 4:30 p.m./Sundays at 5:30 p.m.
at 3925 West Central Avenue (Washington Church)
Rev. Dr. Bev Bingle, Pastor
Mailing address: 3156 Doyle Street, Toledo, OH 43608-2006