In the first reading the prophet Habakkuk asks a question many of us ask sometimes in our faith life.
How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
We may doubt God is really doing anything, and that our faith is in vain.
In the Gospel, we hear the apostles struggling with their doubts when they say to Jesus,
Lord, “Increase our faith.”
Jesus essentially tells them they have enough faith. They just need to learn patience in God and trust him, and do their work.
St. Paul tells his younger companion, Timothy, probably a new Bishop of Ephesus,
I remind you, to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.(Timothy’s ordination)
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
In the case of Habakkuk, he was probably giving his prophecies shortly before 587 BC, when the dreaded Babylonians would come and destroy Jerusalem and take the Jews into exile in Babylon for the next 70 years. There is the question we all hear: Why does God permit evil and destruction?
For generations, the Jews had turned their back on God and the teachings of their faith. There was rampant corruption and violence, with the strong in Judah abandoning their faith, and taking advantage of the poor, not unlike today. The Jews apparently counted upon God’s protection, but they themselves were probably worse than what they expected from the feared empire of Babylon. Several prophets had come to warn them, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Habakkuk. Habakkuk was now saying, it’s over. That’s the last straw. Jerusalem will be destroyed and the people were going to be sent into exile.
Habakkuk was also saying, “Lord, get on with it! Make it happen soon!” God replied to Habakkuk,
“Write down the vision (of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile) clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”
Often we are “rash”, demanding of God, insisting He act upon our instructions. It may be something like, “God, please make this happen! I’ll give you until Thursday.”
The lesson God gives us is that His promise is true, and his chastisement is for our good. As I said, there was much evil in Jerusalem, probably equivalent to any evil in Babylon. Jerusalem had become like Babylon. Jerusalem had been warned by God, through the prophets, but rejected the warnings. The destruction and exile happened in 587 BC.
Therefore, we must learn to be patient and wait on Him, not the other way around. God says, “Wait for it. Turn to me.” We must learn to endure God’s chastisement, because He is perfecting us, not the other way around. Our impatience is often against God. He asks us for patience in our faith and endurance.
In the Gospel, Jesus is showing us how to serve one another, patiently, in faith, when he said.
“Who among you would say to your servant
who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,
‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?
Would he not rather say to him,
‘Prepare something for me to eat.
Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.
You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
Allow me to share a different way to think about this parable. Think about the “Last Supper”. Jesus has just come in from tending the sheep. Jesus is the servant. We are the ones saying, “Prepare something for me to eat … put on your apron and wait on me.”
At the Last Supper, Jesus takes a towel and washes the apostles’ feet. Jesus is the servant at the Last Supper who serves his apostles, before and during the Supper. He shows us exactly how to become the true servant who does what is expected of him, only eating after his service is finished. Jesus is the servant who feeds us, and asks us to do likewise. Do your job. Complete your ministry without grumbling. That is the faith of the mustard seed that can move mountains.
Instead of saying, “Lord, increase my faith”, we must simply do what is expected of us. Then, he will give us rest, only after we have completed our task.
So, as St. Paul tells the young bishop, St. Timothy,
… stir into flame
the gift of God that you have …
… Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me,
in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.