It is rather clear that at the center of today’s liturgy there is the theme of faith. The first reading ends with the sentence “The just one, because of his faith, shall live.” A very important statement, on which Saint Paul will develop his doctrine about justification: “Man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:16 RSV; cf Rm 3:28). At the beginning of the gospel the apostles ask the Lord: “Increase our faith” (Adauge nobis fidem!) At the end of the second reading, Paul urges Timothy to “guard this rich trust.” The Apostle is referring to the “heritage of faith” (the depositum fidei, that is the “sacred deposit of the faith”): faith is the most precious treasure we possess; it has been entrusted to us as a trust that we have to keep intact and hand down to our descendants.
But what is faith? According to the Catechism, faith is the supernatural virtue, by which we adhere to God, entrusting ourselves to him and giving assent to all the truths which he has revealed. It is necessary for salvation. It is a free gift of God and is accessible to all who humbly seek it. Of course, when we use this word—“faith”—we can use it with different shades of meaning. So, in today’s liturgy, the faith of the first reading is the trustful surrender to God, in whom alone man can find salvation. Instead, the heritage of faith, entrusted by Paul to Timothy, is the whole of truths, revealed by God, in which we believe. The faith mentioned in the gospel would seem to be one of the charisms or special graces, the so-called “faith that moves mountains” (in this case it is content to move a mulberry tree). In any case, faith is the first of the three theological virtues—faith, hope and charity. It is the foundation of Christian life. Without it, we cannot be saved. Nowadays many people stress doing rather than believing: what matters, they say, is not to adhere to some doctrines, but to work for justice and peace. Someone goes so far as to say that faith is divisive, while love unites people, regardless of their differences. But they forget that man is unable to love without the grace of God; and we can get that grace only if we believe. Not only faith, but also love is a gift. “Without me, Jesus says, you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
If we now focus our attention on the gospel, what strikes us immediately is that the request to increase their faith comes from the apostles. We consider them the foundation of our faith: we believe because of their testimony. And yet they admit that their faith is poor; and so they feel the need for it to increase. But Jesus shows himself cruel with them: “If you have faith the size of a mustard seed…” It means: You don’t have faith even the size of a mustard seed! If they were of so little faith, how shall we be?
After the sayings about faith, we find in the gospel a small parable: a servant that comes in from the field cannot expect to take his place at table, but he has firstly to wait on his master; he may take his meal just when his master is finished. It would seem that this parable has nothing to do with faith. On the contrary, we have here an outline of the catholic doctrine on justification. As we were saying, according to Saint Paul, “man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ.” This does not mean that, to be saved, there is no need of observing commandments. We must keep commandments, but not with the spirit of the Pharisees, who thought that God was somehow in debt to them. We have to observe commandments just because it is our duty, without laying any claim for that. We should never forget what we are: we are servants; and, as if that was not enough, unprofitable servants (servi inutiles). That is not a shame; it is an honor: we should always be grateful to have been considered worthy to serve the Lord. That is enough for us. But we also know—because the Lord himself told us (Lk 12:37)—that a day will come, when he will gird himself, have us recline at table, and proceed to wait on us.