Do you ever feel like the author of our first reading this weekend? Wherever he looks he sees injustice and tyranny, outrage and violence, contention and discord. Sometimes the media seem to be full of stories about the unfairness of society and the hatred that human beings can show towards each other. Perhaps you have experienced the dark side of human behaviour in those around you, or even in your own personality. Selfishness and cruelty have deep roots in all human beings and the structures we build are never as fair and generous as we intend them to be. That is the way of the world.
But Jesus teaches his disciples that they do not have to accept the way of the world. Instead they must care for the weakest and forgive those who hurt them. Their request ‘increase our faith’ is a cry for help in the face of this impossible demand: we can’t do this, so give us more faith.
Jesus does not accept this excuse. He sees more in them than they see in themselves. He tells them they do not need more faith, they just need to use the gift of faith that they have already been given, to fan it into a flame, as St Paul would say. They need to remember that faith is not belief in something, but trust in someone – Jesus. It is not settling for ingrained patterns of oppression and violence. It is not being overwhelmed by what we think is impossible. He insists that our faith, small as it is, can uproot old and destructive patterns and replace them with caring and reconciled relationships.
The theologian Jack Shea quotes an old story about Jesus. Jesus stands by the river, selling river water. He sees what is there and what is possible and he tries to get others to see what he sees: mulberry trees, one after another, on their way to the sea.