A reflection by Father Mark Suslenko, Pastor, SS. Isidore and Maria Parish
After hearing Jesus teach about what the future inevitability will bring and the need to offer unconditional forgiveness regardless of circumstances, the apostles ask him to increase their faith. They may have had difficulty understanding the rationale behind his teachings or found them to lack “popular or practical sense.” What they are hearing is something new. After all, people had settled into acceptable protocols for dealing with sinners, prostitutes, adulterers, those who hurt you, the poor, the physically challenged, adversaries, and lawbreakers. Now they are presented with teaching that turns all of this upside down and conveys God’s nonviolent vision of how human nature and the world are intended to operate. It is very possible that these early hearers of the Word found themselves ill-equipped to do as Jesus taught. While truth resonated through Jesus’s words and actions, they were asking to have what Jesus had so that they could more adequately do it. They knew they needed more.
God’s presence and vision are not immediately visible to the naked eye. Faith becomes the lens a person needs to see, with Divine light, beyond the limits of human sight. This “faith-seeing” gives everything its proper sacred character. St. Augustine rightly tells us that “faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” Jesus saw his way through moral dilemmas, conflicts, questions, and challenges differently than other leaders of the day. He acted in ways that were not the norm, often against Sabbath law. The apostles knew this. They also realized that he had a conviction to Truth that they admired. These close friends of Jesus also knew they were new travelers on this road of discipleship and needed all the help they could get to stay their course and remain committed to the journey. We are not much different.
The apostles wanted faith. Faith is to not despair at the inevitable suffering and evil that are a part of life. Faith to patiently wait knowing that God’s vision still has its time and will not disappoint. Faith to forgive unconditionally even when hurt in the harshest way. Faith to love, especially those most difficult to love and those who have wronged us. Faith to welcome the sinner, comfort those afflicted, break a Sabbath rule when a situation calls for mercy and compassion, and work for justice and find nonviolent solutions to conflicts. Faith to step aside so that someone else can be first. Faith to know that God is love and how we treat one another reflects our love for God. Faith to know that it is God’s kingdom that must be built and not our own and faith to know that it is only in dying that we find eternal life.
When Jesus stood before Pilate, he was asked whether he could explain himself. Are you who people claim you to be, the Son of God? Jesus remained silent (Mark 15: 1-5). There was no answer he needed to give or could possibly give. St. Thomas Aquinas says, “to the one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To the one without faith, no explanation is possible.” The apostles, like us, had to live in a world with many others who thought very differently than themselves. They knew there was no way they could make sense of what Jesus said using the secular reason of the day. We face the same difficulty. Quite simply, the Gospel does not make sense in our world. They wanted a power that would allow them to stand firm, to do what Jesus taught them to do and persevere in doing so regardless of the personal cost.
The world today is not much different than it was in Jesus’ day. We still have great measures of inequity, injustice, corruption, violence, excessive power and privilege, entitlement, selfishness, greed, the exploitation of human beings, disregard for human life, and the persecution of those who challenge popular political and societal principles. As present-day disciples of Jesus Christ, our feet are in two worlds. While we know what Jesus says is true, we are also mired in a world that can easily pull us in other directions. It is easy to give into popular and contemporary philosophies and trends, knowing that we are compromising our Gospel principles. It is hard to do what is just and right. It is difficult to trust. We need faith.
Our world is experiencing a crisis of faith, the loss of meaning, and an absence of hope. There is so much confusion about what truth is, what it means to be a human being, and what happiness is all about. Many have abandoned the quest for soul searching that could lead them to truth and the eternal dimensions of human existence. Corruption, greed, and violence are increasing, and conflicts of one kind or another are all too commonplace. Many people find themselves very unhappy and are not sure why. Even believers find themselves a bit “weak-kneed” when confronted with a defense of their faith and the ramifications of doing so. We are afraid to speak up and afraid to offend. Yet, the Gospel is the Gospel, and we either believe it wholeheartedly, or we do not. The first disciples were in exactly this same place. They knew what they needed to succeed.
Friends of Jesus have a lot in common, no matter what time or place. We are not much different and struggle with very similar things. We have heard the same teachings and often find ourselves in exactly the same place as those who have come before us. Our nation, world, and church are all in crisis. We need to tone down the voice of violence and start speaking gentle words of peace. We need to stop using words suggestive of battle, defense, and war and bring ourselves back to the quiet place where the words of the Beatitudes were first spoken. Those words and the perfect prayer given to us by Jesus call us back to truth. And, if we ever feel ill-equipped to do as Jesus asks (which may be more often than we think!), may we have the humility and courage to ask him, “Lord, increase my faith.” Then, if we are truly in love with God, we will do what needs to be done and say what needs to be said without a desire for acknowledgment, praise, or concern about the consequences. We are only doing what we are asked to do.