Twenty-Seventh Sunday of the Year
The first reading and the gospel provide us a glimpse of the reality of the people at the time living in world of chaos - like our own - with violence, destruction, and strife due to social abuses by the wealthy and corrupt leadership. The first reading speaks of violence, destruction, discord, strife, and misery. SReimilar in ways to our reality, it not a world where we love our neighbour or fullness of life as Jesus promised occurs. The yearning for an end to us and we look to God to intervene. Habakkuk lamented that God didn’t heed their cry and intervene.
These are the cries coming out of Yemen, Syria, Iraq, people on leaky boats, detention centres overseas and Australia, Palestine, South Sudan, South Sahara, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Korea, West Papua, the Rohingya, the Uighurs, Indigenous peoples worldwide facing land grabs and even of our earth. Some of these cries are muffled and God seems to be silent in the face of injustice and violence. Clearly, God and Jesus do not wave a wand to make things right but invite us to participate in making the world anew. In the gospel, the apostles asked Jesus to increase their faith.
There is much to lament, to fear, to regret and much to repent of, to let go of, and resolve to grow in faith. As in the second reading, we are reminded that we were not given a spirit of cowardice but of power, love and self-discipline (2 Timothy 1:1-14). It is time for disciples to be ready to serve, give voice to unspeakable issues and events, and be hopeful in this troubled world. It is invitation to lament and raise our voices in cries of despair, rage, regret. We need to speak our truth and hear the heart-breaking truth of others.
We fail to see that God is not a neutral observer of earth’s injustices but an active participant with the poor as they struggle for justice here on earth. William Sloane Coffin, was preaching the eulogy at the funeral for his son, Alex, who was killed in a car accident. He said that one thing that should never be said when someone dies is ‘It is the will of God.’ It should not be said when people suffer from tragedy, or live in poverty and injustice. He said that his consolation lay in knowing that it was not the will of God that his son die, but that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break. We might ask who is it really who does nothing. Who contributes directly to the injustice, violence and oppression or being silent and looking away? We can forget that God took flesh in Jesus and in each of us and so called us to be the heart and presence of God in our world. We know that God prefers the small. The prophets always reveal to us God’s heart and passion and how God sides with the nobodies, the voiceless, the afflicted, and the victims of any crime. William Coffin, like the prophets, burned with a sacred rage which was a volatile mix of grief and anger and love that produced ‘a holy flame.’ He said, ‘When you see uncaring people in high places, everybody should be mad as hell.’ If you lessen your anger at the structures of power, he said, you lower your love for the victims of power.
As we look to Jesus and his encounters with people on the margins of life and society, we know where God’s heart is, and we are urged to respond locally and globally. Anyone who tries to make a difference in their little patch of God’s earth knows that the odds can seem impossible, and discouragement sets in but the prophet’s vision encourages us in our concerns and actions and that our hope lay in persevering. We see in the readings the power of small, ordinary, daily acts of justice. It is possible that when we refuse to live according to the expedient, self-centred, materialist values of our society, we may appear to be ineffectual and even a laughing stock, whereas others ‘live it up’ and succeed. The Scriptures remind us that such alternative living does have an impact and has lasting value. The Scriptures assure us that our faithfulness is useful to God. Faith is how we live; it is the lens through which we see ourselves, others, and the world; it is the criterion by which we act and speak. Jesus does not want to supersize our faith as the apostles ask. The question is not how much faith we have but how we live the faith we have- our relationship with Jesus, changes our lives, our relationships, the lives of others? If it is not, more of the same will surely make no difference.
Faith is not given to us in a packet to be spent as currency in our dealings with God. It is not something measured out according to the difficulty of a task, but a relationship of trust and love. It is a community. For the writer of the Letter to Timothy, it is not something we keep in the attic but is more like a house on fire. He calls us to set the world on fire with love to build a more just society. ‘Stir into flame the gift of God you have received.’ The writer continues, ‘God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love.’ This faith can have an explosive power and faith the size of a mustard seed can spread like weeds. Perhaps today's readings are telling us that the very impatience and the passion with which we plea for God's help are the signs that grain-of-mustard hope is truly alive in us; signs that we have more power than we think we have.
Jesus shifts their attention away from thinking about quantity to the quality of the faith they have. Faith comes from action. Jesus encourages us to take the risks necessary to set things right. Having ‘mustard seed faith,’ we might try to make things right wherever we are on hearing Habakkuk's lament today. Excuses about lack of faith are delaying tactics, excuses for inaction and block God’s capacity to work through us. We realise that the task is valuable in itself not the achievement. Opportunities come our way daily. We are called to be just; to care for those in need; to protect the vulnerable; to reach out to the lonely; and to befriend the friendless and lonely. Jesus does not suggest that we go around doing daily acts of wonder and spectacle. He is teaching us that we are to share the cup of suffering with outcasts and the poor; take hold of the poisonous and unjust structures and handle them; move mountains of indifference, apathy, lack of compassion and uproot racism, ageism, homophobia, sexism, whenever we come upon them. Our faith might be weak and small but it is enough. It develops in the doing and God calls us to press on but keep things in perspective. Seeds of hope and change are scattered here and there. Mountains wait to be moved. The world does not need prized achievements as much as an assertion of humanity, beginning to be what we are made to be - reflecting God’s true image.
The alternative Opening Prayer of the previous Roman Missal said: ‘Lead us to seek beyond our reach and give us the courage to stand before your truth.’ It was a call to think big. It involved the imagination and vision to say ‘there is going to be another world’ and participate in its happening. We can express the character of that other world. We touches on issues of sacred sites, of land, justice, family life, employment, food, education, health and housing. These contribute to an infrastructure of hope. The Church's social teachings are concerned with the most basic changes in society. God has no commitment to the present ordering of things as we do. The new order is achieved by God’s mysterious and irresistible work through social processes. Habakkuk’s promise is very public, historical and this world.
Faith is a way of seeing and being. It is aligning ourselves with the vison of Jesus and implementing it To be authentic, it must ‘go public.’ When we allow God’s word to open our eyes and ears, when we listen to the prophets (God’s spokespersons), we see concrete manifestations of God’s presence and siding with the poor everywhere. This week is no exception. It invites us to open our eyes. It is more than prayer or profession of belief in God. It becomes true when prayer and belief are translated into actions that point to God present amongst us. It becomes real when, through our care and our service, the needy know compassion and realize their dignity before God and all others in the human community. And as Father Daniel Berrigan says: The God of life summons us to life; to be life givers, especially toward those who are in anyway downtrodden. William Rivers Pitt of Truthout died recently. He always tried to remind us that the fate of the world is not decided. We have a choice: to speak out even if unsure our words will make a difference? to gather courage to act in the face of injustice? to admit when we screw up and transform our milieu to create more beauty and love despite our mistakes? To commit acts of radical kindness though others are not looking? to put our faith in humanity despite grim odds? His answers were always ’yes. He often concluded his columns with a gentle encourage, “Stout hearts!” as a reminder that although at times unable to strategise our way out of turbulent times, together we can get through them together using deeper human tools: compassion, vulnerability, real feeling, righteous anger, righteous love.
may we know you as the one who loves us,
the one who is good to us,
the one whose mercy never ends,
and the one who offers us hope.
Even amidst the devastation and desolation today,
you call us to holiness, grace and trust.
In our distress and affliction,
fill our lives with power and strength —
the kind which only you can provide.
Let us not be ashamed
to call upon you
and may you empower us to share the Good News
of how you positively affirm our lives and
how you greatly love us with all those we encounter.
Out in Scripture