Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
"We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do" (Lk. 17:5-10).
Upon initial reading, the two parts of today's Gospel reading might seem incongruent. First, Jesus presented us with a striking and easily understood image of a mustard seed, one of the smallest in creation. Our Savior told us that anyone with a tiny seed of faith could command a tree to uproot and plant itself in the sea. Then, from verses 7 through 10, Jesus seems to switch subjects with a parable about a servant to whom no gratitude is expected because he has done what he has been obliged to do.
Though not immediately apparent, there is a connection between these two sections of the Gospel. When we use the word obligation, we tend to think of important, outstanding, or consequential tasks. We hear about professional obligations at work and sworn obligations in our various organizations and ministries; we often even excuse ourselves from events by saying, "I have another obligation that day."
For us, obligations are substantial. We pride ourselves on meeting our obligations. We make timelines for completing them, lay them out in our planners, pray and reflect on how to best handle them, and even equip ourselves spiritually and intellectually to meet these obligations. I sometimes wonder, when meeting our obligations, we tend to focus on those surrounded by fanfares - that are accompanied by a public event, a write-up, a promotion, an election, or a medallion.
Jesus tells us in this parable of the servant, who merely prepares his master's dinner, that we are faced with 'mustard seed obligations' to exemplify our mustard seed worth of faith every day. If we can meet the obligations of planning church activities, working charitable events, and hosting fraternal affairs, but don't oblige our family, our friends, or our neighbors with a smile, a kind word, a wellness check, a good deed, or an occasion to swallow our pride when we are slighted or injured in some way – we are not meeting our Christian obligations. We are called to do without looking for rewards.
When thinking about mustard seeds, I remember how frustrating it was to clean or pick up small seeds or grains on my uncle's farm in Mississippi. They were annoying. They fell everywhere, and it was tedious to gather them up. But remember that Jesus' words in this Gospel reading are prompted by the apostles' request, "Lord, Increase our Faith!" In our Gospel reading two Sundays ago, Jesus said, "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with very much" (Lk 16:10). If we want God to increase our Faith, embolden our Hope, and strengthen our Love, we have to meet the little mustard seed obligations He sends us daily, without expectation of reward.
Author: Jari C. Honora, Father Schmodry Council No. 52, Knights of Peter Claver
Past National Lay Board Member, St. Katharine Drexel Parish, New Orleans, Louisiana