Twenty-seventh Sunday of the Year: Habakkuk 1: 2-3 & 2:2-4; 2 Timothy 1: 6-8 & 13-14; Luke 17: 5-19
“How long, Lord, am I to cry for help while you will not listen. Outrage and violence, this is all I see, all is contention, and discord flourishes.”
The Prophet Habakkuk did not hesitate to express the impatience of a faith brought almost to breaking point. His world, and with it everything that God had seemed to promise, was falling apart. Jerusalem, God’s Holy City, was in its death throes. Destruction and exile were waiting at the door. The city’s population, and especially her leaders, had lost all sense of God’s presence. Habakkuk was angry. Where was God, why didn’t he do something?
When we struggle there is a selfish tendency that tends to call God to account. When we have made every effort to live according to the Gospel, we feel aggrieved when our world begins to fall apart. This easily happens when the stability of family life is threatened, when redundancy clouds the horizon, when we feel let down by those around us. Habakkuk’s complaint, even if not openly expressed, eats away at our hearts. “How long, Lord, am I to cry for help, while you will not listen?”
The Lord’s answer to Habakkuk’s complaint was demanding. It called for a trust that reached beyond the immediacy of its own hurt and impatience.
“Write the vision down, inscribe it on tablets to be easily read, since this vision is for its own time. If it comes slowly, wait, for come it will, without fail.”
The God of Israel would indeed save his people, would bring them through the chaos of their broken world. This salvation would be driven by a selfless trust in God’s saving purpose rather than impatient demands calling God to account. Impatience and discontent, however understandable, trap the spirit in its pain. Trusting faith sets us free to surrender ourselves to what God is doing.
“See how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights, but the upright man shall live by his faithfulness.”
Jesus commended such faith to his disciples. They, for their part, were overwhelmed by the poverty of their faith. They realised that only by entrusting themselves to their Lord could they live as Jesus lived, love as Jesus loved, forgive as Jesus forgave. Not surprisingly they prayed: “Increase our faith.” Jesus reminded his disciples that the most impoverished faith, surrendered to God, achieves infinitely more than what is done alone.
“Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree ‘be uprooted and planted in the sea’ and it would happen.”
Faith and love claim nothing for themselves. Their greatest satisfaction is to be instruments of the Lord’s graciousness. It was for this reason that Jesus cautioned his disciples against the self-importance that hankers for recognition. We are the Lord’s servants, alive only in the grace of his love. By reminding us that we are merely servants, to whom nothing is due, Jesus sets us free to live his generosity. We belong to God with all that we are and have. Hidden desires for acknowledgment are, to say the least, petty. The faith that longs for acknowledgment, for a privileged place at the Lord’s table, brings in its wake jealousy and envy. It knows nothing of the Lord who came not be served, but to serve and give his life for many.