Saturday, October 1, 2016

God's reign... wait...for...it

Readings: Hab. 1:2-3.2:2-4; Ps 95:1-2.6-9; 2 Tim 2:6-8.13-14; Luke 17:5-10

Hope from our readings for this Sunday comes from our first reading in which God commands the prophet Habakkuk:
Write down the vision 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 (Hab. 2:2-4)
Meanwhile, in our reading from 2 Timothy, Timothy is urged "to bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God" (2 Tim. 1:8). What is the strength that comes from God? If Jesus and St. Paul are to be believed, the strength that comes from God is powerlessness.

In today's Gospel, it seems to me that we easily fixate on Jesus telling the apostles that if they possessed even the smallest faith, they could do remarkable things. Using an example that was no doubt close-at-hand, the Lord told them: "If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you" (Luke 17:6). I think it's fair to say that if you have faith even slightly larger than a mustard seed you understand that using it to command mulberry trees to be uprooted and planted in the sea is useless and, like Jesus' own miracles, about which he was very ambivalent, perhaps counterproductive when it comes to accomplishing God's purposes. Due to our fixation on verses like this, usually ripped out of context, far too many people conceive of faith like magic from Harry Potter books, or "the force" from Star Wars.



Jesus' immediate, dramatic, and illustrative response to the apostles' request that he "increase" their faith is meant only to show the power of faith. What he went on to teach them demonstrates that the power of faith is to be used to usher in God's reign by doing what he commanded them. As with last week's Gospel, in which we heard the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, reference is made to what is commanded. What did Jesus command his apostles and all who would follow him? "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27).

When we have loved God by loving our neighbor what is our reward? Our reward is to make God's reign present when and where we have done what the Lord commands. Until Christ returns God's reign will not be definitively established. "The vision," as God said to Habakkuk, "presses on to fulfillment and will not disappoint." It will be realized at the right time and not be late. Hence, there is no need to act rashly, like one who has no integrity. Meanwhile, as disciples of Christ, like Timothy, we must be willing "to bear our share of hardship for the gospel."

What was Jesus' earthly reward for inaugurating God's reign? Death on a cross. It takes faith at least as great as that required to uproot a mulberry tree and re-plant it in the ocean to persevere in love. Planting many tiny seeds that will sprout, grow, and bloom in time is how God's reign will be realized.

As far as acting rashly and without integrity, for some people it's always the end of the world until the end of the world. Faith, which is dead without works, and not politics will bring about the reign of God.

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