There is a Chinese proverb that says, “Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt the person doing it.” This is another way of saying what Christ stated in this Sunday’s Gospel: “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.”
This Sunday’s Gospel opens with this exchange between Christ and the apostles on the power of faith. But let us throw in two more points for reflection before we reflect on the power of faith.
The first is the clarity of vision, which inspires faith. The second is what the second part of today’s Gospel reminds us of, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” This second part is fair warning that we must safeguard against a sense of entitlement, or more colloquially, “feeling.”
Great, positive vision
An excellent training video titled “The Power of Vision” defines and discusses vision. There are a couple of points it raises and discusses, which I will paraphrase. One, great vision precedes great achievement; and two, a positive vision of the future can help people overcome a sense of victimhood and empower them to strive and succeed.
The video talks about the story of ancient Greece and how, against all odds—with a small population, not much geographic advantage and natural resources to speak of—it managed to create not just a military and political empire, but one of the greatest civilizations and eras in human history. Greece embodied the tenet that great vision precedes great achievement.
The story of a public elementary school in the rough and impoverished neighborhood of Harlem, New York, meanwhile, is an example of the power of a positive vision of the future.
The batting average of African-American kids getting into college grows smaller as they go up the rungs of education. But, in this case, an alumnus of the school who did well and made it big gave a talk and promised the kids that if they went to high school, he would help them finish by giving them support and allowances. If they continued on to college he also promised to help them obtain scholarships.
With this one talk, that batch defied the near-zero rate norm of students going into college and registered the best numbers in the history of the school. A positive vision of the future overcoming victimhood and enabling people to go for gold, so to speak.
The power of vision is the power of faith; believing beyond what is possible is the faith that Christ talks about in this Sunday’s Gospel.
The author George Bernard Shaw said, “Some men see things as they are and ask why? I dream of things that never were and ask, why not?” This is another expression of the faith that Christ talks about.
“The Power of Vision” asserts that vision is articulated by a leader and embraced by others, and thus the community is formed or strengthened. Then, to attain its vision, the community acts together.
It is interesting to note that this power of faith was addressed by Christ to the apostles who said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” These were the 12 men who started out on what seemed like an impossible task, an impossible dream. They were the least likely agents to start one of the most remarkable and enduring organizations in human history.
The church is a community that brilliantly exemplifies the power of vision—a vision articulated by a leader, embraced by others and made real by everyone acting in concert.
The power of faith Christ entrusts to his apostles is rooted in the vision of the meaning of life and of life eternal—the inseparable dream of the Cross and the Resurrection, the Paschal Mystery.
The impact of Pope Francis’ latest statements and actions is the return of the people’s faith in the Church. I would like to think the Holy Father is going back to basics in what he’s saying, asking the Church to be the compassionate and caring community that Christ’s Cross and Resurrection were founded on—or, better yet, had won.
This is one of the enduring themes of Greek mythology. It has constantly reappeared across eras and cultures, from the journey of Ulysses in the epic “The Odyssey” to the contemporary Superman, Spiderman and Harry Potter stories. There is a dream to follow, to believe in and to dedicate one’s life to.
But there is a price one has to pay for believing in and dedicating one’s self to following a dream.
This is the second part of the Gospel: “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
I invite you to see this as our Cross—dying to self and “debasing” our egos. It is the dying of the ego that will allow the life and spirit of the Risen Lord to become alive in us. This requires the humility to see the truth that we are “unprofitable servants.” But it is the humility that will help us see that we do not deserve anything, yet God gives us everything.
This call to a return to vision, to believe in dreams again, reverberates in humanity’s longing for hope and a positive vision of the future.
Today, let us pray to have the capacity to believe again. We pray for Pope Francis, who is renewing a compassionate and caring church. We pray for all our leaders; for the President who made many of us, especially the poor, believe that “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap”; may he be inspired to renew this hope and dream we all want to believe in, in the face of the cynicism brought on by scams and scandals in public service; and for the citizenry that has taken the lead in expressing our collective outrage over legitimate issues of wrongdoing.
For “those who say it cannot be done,” we pray that they “should not interrupt the person doing it.”