Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God's elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began — in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Saviour, To Titus, my loyal child in the faith we share: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Saviour.
I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you: someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious. For a bishop, as God's steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble. Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. And if the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, 'I repent,' you must forgive."
The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
The Scriptures today show the interaction of ideals with hard-nosed common sense. This is evident in the Epistle to Titus, which reads like a manual for clergy, less enthusiastic than Paul's earlier letters and focussed on practical aspects of church governance. Paul writes in paternal tones, calling Titus "my true child in our common faith," but trusting in his prudent judgment, "I left you in Crete to do what remains to be done, especially the appointment of presbyters in every town." He goes on to speak of faith's broad horizons: Titus must promote the knowledge of the truth, the hope of that eternal life which God promised in endless ages past. Within this setting, Paul inserts his practical concern for the nitty-gritty. The presbyters to be appointed must be of irreproachable character, not self-willed, married only once, not arrogant, respectable family men, hospitable and amiable.
The gospel tackles a problems often felt by idealistic people: they can too easily be scandalized. Maybe such people just need to be more streetwise and tough, but Jesus defends their innocence and warns against giving scandal to them. Idealists often find it difficult to forgive, or to empathise with the temptations felt by others. Even in the Church, some are so obsessed with their own criteria of holiness and their own scale of values that they fail to see goodness in the different values of others. The inability of a church leader to dialogue with others may turn out to be a scandal to the less devout, less religious person. One's quest for holiness needs to be balanced by faith in God's activity in the lives of others.
In the gospels we find many prayers of petition made to Jesus by various people. When the disciples were in danger in a storm at sea, they prayed aloud to him, 'Lord, save us.' In today's gospel we find another prayer of theirs, 'Lord, increase our faith.' It is a prayer we all probably find easy to make our own. It reminds me of another prayer of someone in the gospels, 'Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.'
The disciples' request, 'Lord, increase our faith', comes immediately after Jesus' challenging call to forgive those who offend us, even if they offend us seven times. In response to this heroic challenge, the disciples felt their need of more faith, 'Increase our faith.' Jesus declares that even faith the size of a mustard seed can do extraordinary things. The Lord can work powerfully through our little faith. Even if we feel our faith is weak at times, we can thank God for our little faith, because the Lord can do great things with it. We can never underestimate how the Lord can work in and through our little faith, if we let him.