“Ask not what God can do for you; ask what you can do for God.”

Something dawned on me today about Luke 17:6:
“The Lord replied,
‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you would say to this mulberry tree,
‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.'”
We always take this as being “if you have enough faith, God will work miracles for you.” In context, it’s just the opposite.
Our Lord tells the disciples that it’s worse to cause another to sin than to sin (17:1-2); then He says to rebuke sinners but forgive them when they repent, even several times a day (17:3-4).
In that context, the disciples ask, “Increase our Faith” (17:5), and Jesus replies with the mustard seed metaphor. Continuing from there, He teaches about the servant who cooks and serves dinner *after* working in the fields all day, and says, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do'” (17:7-10), the definitive text on heroic virtue.
So, in context, the disciples ask for more faith because it’s difficult to a) speak out against sin and b) forgive people. Jesus says they can do anything with minimal faith, and then says it’s important to do *more* than God commands of us. So He’s not saying “with ‘minimal faith,’ God will do great things for you”; He’s saying, “with ‘minimal faith,’ you will do great things for God.”
It’s like the vision St. John Bosco had late in his life, after he had lived to see his former student Dominic Savio canonized. He was in the most beautiful place he had ever seen, hearing the most beautiful music he had ever heard. There were, as my great-uncle put it in his dying moments, “Millions of children playing.” There were also even more boys standing at a gate, in a dark place, clamoring and screaming to be let in.
Dominic Savio appeared, and Don Bosco asked, “Dominic! Where am I? Is this Heaven?”
“No. No one can see Heaven and live.”
So St. John pointed to a bright light from beyond a distant mountain.
“Is *that* Heaven?”
“Not even the gateway. Heaven is even more beautiful than that.”
Then he pointed to the children at the gate: “Who are they?”
“Those are the boys you could have saved but you did not have enough faith.”
At the end of every day, when we examine our consciences, *even* if we have completely avoided sin and fulfilled our basic “obligations,” we must remind ourselves that we are merely unprofitable servants and beg God’s forgiveness.

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