As I read the gospels, mostly I find encouragement. Jesus reminds us that God loves us and forgives us and helps us along the way. And thank God for it!
Then Jesus gives us a little motivation in the form of lessons about how we should live, things like “if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times a day and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive” (Luke 17:4). That kind of forgiveness is not easy! Apparently the apostles also found it a little daunting because they immediately respond, “Increase our faith!” We cannot do it. Help us!!
Jesus is surprisingly unsympathetic. He tells them if they had faith the size of a mustard seed, they could say to a tree, ‘Be uprooted,’ and it would obey.
I do not think Jesus was interested in moving trees, impressive though that would be. His point is that a little faith goes a long way. With even a little faith, we can do great things. Surely that ought to include forgiving each other!
That is also his answer to their prayer about increasing their faith. God has given us the gifts that we need. Now it is our turn to put those gifts to work. So we should start forgiving each other. We should start working together to do God’s will. We should at least try “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). If we do, God will help, and we will get better at it, and our faith will grow.
Tuesday of this week (October 4) is the anniversary of the death of Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Francis was a man of great faith. But even he had to start somewhere. One of my favorite stories comes from the beginning of his ministry. At that time, Francis feared leprosy and had a horror of lepers. But that was who God called Francis to serve, so, despite his fear, Francis approached the next leper he encountered. Francis embraced him, cleansed his wounds, and served him. And in that experience, Francis discovered new depths of faith and love.
Francis needed a little kick in the pants in order for him to learn more about God’s love and to deepen his faith. Sometimes we all need a little motivational help. But if we listen for God’s call to us, if we use the gifts that God gives us, if we do the work God invites us to do, then we, too, will grow in faith and love. And that is encouragement!