“Membership has its privileges.” We like to get something special for regular business, it’s why we sign up for rewards programs. It’s part of our nature, I guess. Collecting our rewards may not be easy, but we like the idea. When I was growing up we had something called S and H Green Stamps, and if you collected them you could get rewards. If you collected a couple thousand or so books o them, you could get a free sailboat: it probably would have taken just a few decades to do it. It’s nothing new. Even if we don’t get something extra for shopping someplace, we like a little appreciation.
Today’s readings are a bit tough to swallow. At first the disciples make a fairly reasonable request: increase our faith. We all want to increase out faith, we pray to increase our faith, don’t we. And what does Jesus say: if you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could get a mulberry bush to uproot itself and move. Mustard seeds are the size of coarse ground pepper, but they can grow into plants over 8 feet tall, and birds do nest in them. Mulberry trees have an extensive root system and are very difficult to uproot, so the idea of one moving itself was one of these unbelievable situation that Jesus is fond of giving us. It’s not quantity but quality that matters. That’s not what we see on TV every night. How many of us are happy with quality instead of quantity? My instinct is to say I want quality and quantity.
The second part of Jesus teaching is also kind of tough. When I was growing up in Higginsville, I knew a few places and a few farms where there was a boss and just one employee. Not much available in the way of employee benefits, I guess. So the one employee works all day long and guess what: he has to play cook and butler when the day is done. He’s doing two jobs instead of one. This isn’t a slave we’re talking about: Jesus knew the difference between servants and slaves and he uses the term servant here. So at the end of this, what is going one here? We’re supposed to be like unappreciated, overworked people?
As usual, there’s something we’re missing. Jesus isn’t endorsing unjust employment; he’s showing us something about discipleship, and it happens to be something that we might have trouble with on the surface. The point of living the life Christ calls us to, the point of taking on the mission of the Church is not to receive thanks for what we do. We can give each other strokes, but we can’t expect them from the guy upstairs. We’re not working here for appreciation. As Jesus says, at the end of day we are useless servants, haven’t only done our duty.
So why do it? Why be under appreciated? If this happened at work, we’d probably update our resumes wouldn’t we? Let’s not get into what happens at home when we’re not appreciated. So why do it? Why go to all the trouble of coming to mass, signing up to volunteer for different ministries, sending the children to Catholic school or religious ed, etc? Surely we can get a better deal somewhere else.
Well, let’s take things from another angle. We are talking about the God that gave us life, gave us a world to live in, gave us his Son to reconcile us to him, gives us the Church as a means to find Christ through the Word and sacraments and through one another, promises help, healing guidance if we but ask, and wants to welcome us home in the fullness of his kingdom to live with him forever in a place that is better than we could hope for or imagine. It’s a little tough to look for frequent flyer miles in addition with a deal like this. What God has already done for us is beyond our imagination, overwhelming in scope.
So the reason for coming here today is gratitude rather than reward. When we think about it, we have a lot to be grateful for and we don’t have to wait until Thanksgiving to express that gratitude. The reason we should take care of one another is because God has taken care of us, and refusing to do so is a kind of ingratitude. The reason we live our lives as Jesus taught, why we seek to do better and grow in our faith, is in gratitude for what He’s done for us. The core of what we do here every week, the Eucharist, comes from the Greek word for Thanksgiving. The Eucharistic prayer is a prayer of thanksgiving: listen to it today for the tone of the prayers. As we prepare for this feast of gratitude, let us continue to consider how we can respond to the God who gives us everything in Christ.