Some people, reading today’s gospel (Lk 17:1-6), think that they have discovered some secret formula by which they can exert some sort of magical control over God. They think that if they would just figure out the right way of thinking—which they call “faith”—then God would do what they want. This makes faith into something like a skill that one can, work on, master, and control. But as “love,” on its own, is an absurdity, an impossibility, so, also, faith, “on its own” is an absurdity, an impossibility. Many people make the mistake of thinking that “the faith” refers to some body of doctrine, that it is something that can be systematized, written down, memorized, and applied. But true Faith is actually a grace, a relationship with the living and true God, who offers us his very life. The faith that God offers us invites us, through the Holy Spirit, into the very life that the Son shares with the Father from all eternity.
And what does that divine life look like in the life of one of us? It looks like the life of Jesus, who is the full revelation of God in his life as man. “I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (Jn 15:15). “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise. The Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing; and he will show him greater works than these, so that you will be astonished” (John 5:19-20). The one who has faith is not the one who has memorized the catechism or who has a doctorate in theology. One can accomplish these things and have no faith at all. Rather, the one who has faith abides in Christ as a branch upon a vine (Jn 15). And, as the Son does nothing except what he sees the Father doing, so also the one with faith in Christ will do nothing other that what he sees Christ doing. Today’s gospel offers not the secret to a magical power over God, but rather invites us into the very relationship between the Son and the Father. Where we receive this faith, even if it be as small as a mustard seed, we can and must, in obedience to what God prompts within us, “say to this mulberry tree, ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey.”