God's Word on Sunday: Faith is our lifeline through the darkness

  • September 29, 2019

27th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Oct. 6 (Year C) Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Psalm 95; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10

How long, O Lord? This cry of anguish has been uttered by many over the centuries. It conveys anger, bewilderment, disillusionment and deep distress in the face of incredible violence, insecurity and the collapse of the social and political order.

Habakkuk prophesied in the late seventh century BC. The Assyrian threat had waned, but now the Babylonians were flexing their muscles and casting covetous eyes at Jerusalem. The prophet uttered the same cry that many of us have at times: How much longer is this going to go on? Why doesn’t God do something, why doesn’t God stop them?

There are reassuring words in the prophecy: All of this will end, but not yet. Everything in due time — there is a divine timetable to be followed and this timetable has little to do with our own. In the midst of the chaos, there is order and reason, and God is certainly not absent.

The end of the prophecy reveals a powerful principle by which to live and it seems to answer the anguish of the prophet’s cry. The just or righteous live by faith.

This statement is found again in the letters of Paul and it played a prominent role during the Reformation in the theology of Luther. But it is not a formula describing how to “get saved” — it tells us how to lead a godly and sane life in this chaotic world without losing hope or our minds!

Faith — trust in the goodness and guiding presence of God — is the lifeline that will lead us through the darkness. Regardless of what is happening around us or to us, if our faith in God does not waver, we will not either.

Habakkuk was a treasured prophecy in many different ages because it speaks to perennial human struggles. We will not always have the answers to our questions and many things will remain obscure and perplexing. But we can be assured that God guides human history and is always with us. That is all we really need.

Often believers in Jesus have little understanding of the spiritual power at their disposal. The power residing in us should cast away fear and the love that we express in our day-to-day lives can make an incredible difference in our world.

Why don’t we see more evidence of this? The author of 2 Timothy recognizes that we have to keep the fire of the spirit blazing within us. It is too easy to neglect the fire and let it sputter out. He exhorts us to rekindle the gift that God has given us — we cannot simply take it for granted.

Luke makes it clear that faith is more than intellectual assent to doctrines or rules, but absolute trust in God. Even the tiniest bit of genuine faith has tremendous power.

Those with this sort of power have changed the world. It cannot be bought or sold and imitations are worthless. Faith is an inner conviction and assurance of something even if we cannot see it and evidence seems to be lacking. It is not wishful thinking, but another mode of knowing, and it is bestowed on those who walk in God’s ways.

Jesus also had something to say about people who expect accolades and medals for doing what they are supposed to do. We can overlook the inappropriate use of slaves for the role model in this story and focus on the spiritual lesson. Our own age should take notice for in our quest for “building positive self-esteem,” everyone is a hero and a winner and those who do their job well (and even some who don’t) often receive excessive praise and recognition.

That is the work of the ego, always seeking recognition and affirmation. Catholic social activist Dorothy Day discovered that her followers were planning on having her canonized after her death. She forbade it, stating that she would not be dismissed so easily!

Kindness, generosity, compassion and encouragement are our “default settings.” They represent the way we are supposed to act and we shouldn’t get an award for doing so.

Being a saint should not be the exception but the rule. Mother Teresa often said that “holiness is not the luxury of the few. It is a simple duty for you and for me.”

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