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God's Word on Sunday: Faith an ‘unfailing lamp’ that lights the way

  • October 2, 2022

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

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” In one form or another, this has been the lament of countless generations of believers. Even today, it is a telling accusatory question that is often leveled at God. Where was God during the war, the Holocaust, the earthquake, the plane crash and so on? There are no glib and easy answers, and those who attempt to explain the unexplainable merely deepen the gloom.

In our own time, watching the news or reading the newspaper is an exercise in horror and desolation. Habakkuk does get an answer, but not the one he wanted or expected. God informs him that despite all outward appearances, events are moving towards a conclusion, but all in due time. The prophet is advised to be patient — the end will come and God can be trusted.

God is present in all of the events that unfold around us. God then gives the key for living in a chaotic and violent world with some degree of serenity. The righteous person, God insists, lives by their faith. Faith is not doctrine or dogma; faith is radical trust and is our rock and our lifeline. Faith can stare down all of the terrible things that the world can dish out and be absolutely certain that God is present, God knows and God cares.

As Helen Keller, blind and deaf her entire life, spoke from her experience, “Faith is the unfailing lamp that lights us on our way.” This is far from a Pollyanna attitude, for people of faith are well aware of the pain and ugliness of which our world is capable. And things might get worse before they get better, but people of faith are convinced that in the end, God will be victorious. Dark times do not call for cynicism or escapism, but for a renewal and deepening of faith in our faithful God. How long, O Lord? As long as it takes, and we will be ready.

The author of 2 Timothy writes in the same vein. He reminds us to rekindle the gift of God that is within us and to guard this divine presence entrusted to us like the treasure that it is. The letter insists that the spirit that we receive is not one of cowardice, but courage, as well as love and self-discipline. Holding all of this together is the Holy Spirit that lives in us. We should focus on the Spirit that “lives” in us — it is not some theological concept but a living, vibrant reality — when we allow it to be so.

The response of Jesus to His disciples when they asked that He increase their faith seems to be an extravagant overstatement. Mulberry trees stay rooted in the ground — or do they?

The faith of which Jesus speaks is not the rather weak assertions of belief in this or that common to many. Faith in this context is a constant laser-like focus on the mind and heart of God. We purify our faith of selfishness and material concerns with one goal in mind — to allow God’s will to be done in us and through us. When we are fully conscious of God dwelling within us, doubt vanishes and all things seem possible. We are often prevented by fear from recognizing this, but as we are told, perfect love casts out fear. “Yes, but…” is not a helpful or fruitful response to God’s promises.

Many people feel uneasy when slaves are used in New Testament parables for spiritual teaching. The slave in this parable is treated rather brusquely and without real compassion. The point is also made that when the followers of Jesus do what they have been commanded to do, they should consider themselves worthless slaves and should not expect thanks.

But this teaching was given in an ancient culture in which slavery was the norm and that sort of treatment expected. Images and symbols appropriate to the time, place and culture were used. It would be expressed very differently today.

But the point is still valid — we should not expect thanks and praise for behaving as the Lord has asked us — it is merely who we are, or at least hope to become.