Gospel Reflection – The Unadorned Table
The Unadorned Table
There are ten meals in Luke’s Gospel and each one is not only a table of food but also a table of the word … just as we have in the liturgy of the Eucharist. Each meal is the setting for some important teaching. We are familiar with the Last Supper, the revelation of the Risen Lord at the meal shared on the road to Emmaus, the banquet to celebrate the return of the Prodigal Son, and Martha sitting attentively at the feet of the Lord while her sister prepares the food. The Gospel for this Sunday (Luke 17:5-10) is, what I call, the Parable of the Unadorned Table.
Lord, increase our faith
The apostles asked the Lord to increase their faith. How did he answer them? Would their faith be deepened by an astounding miracle like planting a mulberry tree in the sea, defying all the laws of science? Sadly, many of those who witnessed the miracles of Jesus did not become believers. To believe is to give not only assent of the mind but also one’s heart in a personal relationship with God. The word creed derives from the Latin,cor-dare, to give one’s heart. Responding to the request of the apostles to increase their faith, Jesus did notgive them lessons in theology, or visions or charismatic experiences. His answer is in the parable of the servant who is faithful to his daily chores. The increase of faith that Jesus wants is everyday faithfulness.
Luke, as a writer, was a master of painting a picture in words, and it invites us to use imagination to get inside the story. The table in today’s parable is unadorned and lonely. Here is a small farmer who has the one servant for field and table. One hopes that between field and table the servant will wash his hands! There is no womanly warmth or sensitivity to settings here. Drab, bachelor bareness. The place could do with a good cleaning … and new curtains. Last week’s newspaper serves as a tablecloth, mottled in a crazy pattern of brown tea rings. The food is unexciting, but functional. No idle talk interrupts the serious business of replenishing an empty stomach. Each knows his place and keeps to it. There is mutual acceptance that “good fences make good neighbours.” The master offers not so much as a grunt of gratitude: the servant expects none. Duty is done, another day is lived and life goes on. Unexciting, humdrum, ordinary. The parable ends thus: “When you have done all you have been told to do, say, ‘We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty’.”
Faithfulness will be patient
To be faithful is to persevere, to stay the course, to keep going, especially when the going is tough and there are no signs of affirmation or gratitude. In today’s First Reading, the prophet, Habakkuk, encourages people to persevere in faith. He writes in a time of oppression, tyranny, outrage and violence, announcing a message of hope from God, but he encourages his people to be patient. “If it comes slowly, wait, for come it will, without fail. See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights, but the upright people will live by their faithfulness” (Hab. 2:4).
Do not forget the Holy Spirit
Our Second Reading today is Paul’s encouragement to his disciple Timothy. “God’s gift is not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:6). One of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit is piety, which is not to be confused with piosity. The real meaning of piety is being faithful to one’s daily duties.
There is an old story about a remote Jewish village where they had somebody qualified in each of the necessary trades except one. They had no clockmaker. This was long before there were digital clocks. No two clocks or watches showed the same time. Some people gave up on winding their clocks or watches. But others continued to keep them wound. Then a girl in the village married a clockmaker who came to live among them. People rushed in to him to get their clocks up to an agreed time. He had no problem with the clocks which had been wound daily. But the neglected timepieces had seized up and were beyond repair.
One’s prayer-life might be for long periods at the unadorned, humdrum table. The faithful servant continues to wind the clock even when there is no excitement, no inner enlightenment, and no answers coming through. Faith grows through fidelity to the daily routine.
Religion can be so boring!
The faithful performance of daily duties is a sign of faithfulness in any job. But some people complain about repeated religious exercises. Mass is boring! The Rosary is so repetitive! I’m always making the same confession! Yet the most important acts in life are repetitive … your heartbeat, breathing, eating, sleeping and so on. We breathe about one thousand times each hour. The human heart beats more than four thousand times each hour. As I have a slow heartbeat, I had to get an implant inserted to ensure that my ticker will not dip below a safe rhythm. Do we ever call these repeated actions boring? Daily fidelity is what keeps the body functioning in a healthy way. It is the same with the spiritual life.
There is nothing glamourous about this unadorned faithfulness. One perseveres quietly and lovingly because faith believes that God is faithful. And that is enough. God reaches out to me three-hundred and sixty-five days each year in unwavering, faithful love. The least I owe to God is to make space for prayer three-hundred and sixty-five days of the year. We are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty.
With the apostles we pray, “Lord, increase our faith.”
When our prayer is in darkness and lack of consolation, remind us that the Spirit we received in the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation is praying with us in ways beyond words.
Strengthen us to remain faithful even when the table we dine at is unadorned, routine and lonely. We are merely your servants, doing our duty.