Saturday, August 7, 2010

If You Have Faith The Size Of A Mustard Seed, Nothing Will Be Impossible For You.

Saturday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading I
Hebrews 1:12—2:4
Are you not from eternity, O LORD,
my holy God, immortal?
O LORD, you have marked him for judgment,
O Rock, you have readied him punishment!
Too pure are your eyes to look upon evil,
and the sight of misery you cannot endure.
Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence
while the wicked man devours
one more just than himself?
You have made man like the fish of the sea,
like creeping things without a ruler.
He brings them all up with his hook,
he hauls them away with his net,
He gathers them in his seine;
and so he rejoices and exults.
Therefore he sacrifices to his net,
and burns incense to his seine;
for thanks to them his portion is generous,
and his repast sumptuous.
Shall he, then, keep on brandishing his sword
to slay peoples without mercy?

I will stand at my guard post,
and station myself upon the rampart,
And keep watch to see what he will say to me,
and what answer he will give to my complaint.

Then the LORD answered me and said:
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 man has no integrity;
but the just man, because of his faith, shall live.
Today we have one reading from the Prophet Habakkuk. The book dates from the years 605-597 BC, that is, between the great Babylonian victory at Carchemish and Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of the southern kingdom of Judah which resulted in the capture and destruction of Jerusalem. In addition to the threat of invasion, the city itself was a hotbed of political intrigue and widespread idolatry.

The first two chapters, from which our readings are taken, consist of a dialogue between God and the prophet and it may be the only place in the Bible where someone questions the way God manages events.

The New American Bible also comments:
The third chapter [from which we will not be reading] is a magnificent religious lyric, filled with reminiscences of Israel’s past and rich in literary borrowings from the poetry of ancient Canaan, though still expressing authentic Israelite faith. God appears in all his majestic splendour and executes vengeance on Judah’s enemies. The prophecy ends with a joyous profession of confidence in the Lord, the Saviour.

In today’s reading the prophet complains to God how he can tolerate the evil of those who cause so much suffering among his chosen people. The Jerusalem Bible summarises the prophet’s feelings thus:

If it is true that the Chaldaean triumph is ultimately due to Yahweh, this only moves the problem back to Yahweh himself who must give the answer. How is it that a just and holy God, the custodian of justice, can treat nations thus, and the chosen people in particular? Will he allow the wicked to engulf the virtuous?

While the New International Version comments:
Habakkuk cannot see the justice in Judah’s being punished by an even more wicked nation, and thinks that the Babylonians surely would not be allowed to conquer Judah completely.

The prophet acknowledges God as the Holy One who lives in eternity from ancient times, that is, from the time of the Exodus, the basis of the prophet’s hope for the future. “O Rock!” - a title recognising God’s immutable power. But it is this God who has made Babylon his agent for the judgement of the chosen people. Yahweh “made this people an instrument of justice, set it firm as a rock in order to punish”.

At the same time, the prophet sees a contradiction here. God’s eyes are too pure to look on wickedness and tyranny and yet he remains silent while evil men practise their treachery on those, who, though bad, are not as evil as their enemies. It is the classic question, asked again and again: Why does evil seem to flourish unchecked by a just and holy God? A question often asked on September 11, 2001 and after other similar murderous attacks.

God, says Habakkuk, treats people “like fishes in the sea”. The victims of Babylonia are as helpless as fish swimming into a net. In fact, Mesopotamian reliefs show conquering rulers symbolically catching their victims in fishnets. It seems that the Babylonians are allowed to do anything they like and, in the end, “triumphantly rejoice”. They then offer celebratory sacrifices over their “catch” and burn incense to the booty which rewards them with wealth and luxury.

Is there to be no end to all of this?, the prophet wants to know. “Shall [Babylon] keep brandishing his sword, to slay peoples without mercy?” So the prophet goes on a long watch on Jerusalem’s city walls to see if the Lord has any answer at all to his complaints. The prophet keeps watch like a sentry on behalf of his people. He looks out from his tower expecting a response to his challenge.

Yahweh’s response comes in the second part of today’s reading. “Then the Lord answered and said…” The prophet is told to write down the vision or revelation and put it on tablets so that it can easily be carried and read out by a messenger and delivered to all those meant to receive it. The word used here refers specifically to a prophet’s vision.

The message is “for its own time only” without any specification of when it will happen. It will be fulfilled at the appointed time. In fact it will deal with the fall of Babylon in 539 BC, 66 years after Habakkuk made his prophecy. “It presses on to fulfilment and will not disappoint.” It has an energy of its own, because it is the expression of Yahweh’s word moving to inevitable fulfilment.

The Advent liturgy uses this verse to express expectation of the Messiah.  The message, then, is to be patient. It may be slow in coming but “come it will, without fail”.

In conclusion a contrast is made between two kinds of people. On the one hand there is the one “who flags, whose soul is not at rights” but “the upright man will live by his faithfulness”. The king of Babylonia and his followers can be numbered among the first kind as well as those people of Judah who have lost confidence in God. The other remains utterly faithful to God no matter what happens and how long he has to wait.

‘Faithfulness’ to God, i.e. to his word and to his will, is characteristic of the ‘upright’ man, and assures him security and life here on earth. The wicked man, who does not have this ‘uprightness’ runs to ruin. The upright and the wicked in this context are respectively Judah and the Chaldaeans: the former will live, the others perish.

“The just man, because of his faith, shall live.” In light of God’s revelation about how (and when) he is working, his people are to wait patiently and live by faith - trusting in their sovereign God. The clause is quoted frequently in the New Testament to support the teaching that people are saved by grace through faith and should live by faith (Hebrews 10:38-39). It became the rallying cry of the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century.

There is a distinction to be made between ‘faith’ and ‘faithfulness’. ‘Faith’ implies a deep and unconditional trust in God’s love and care for us, even in our sinfulness. ‘Faithfulness’ or ‘fidelity’ suggests maintaining, through thick and thin and perhaps over a long period of time, the integrity of a relationship (as in marriage). Obviously both apply in this passage.

We all need to live by faith and faithfulness. Here is one of the secrets of peace and happiness in our lives.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 9
You forsake not those who seek you, O Lord.
The LORD sits enthroned forever;
he has set up his throne for judgment.
He judges the world with justice;
he governs the peoples with equity.
You forsake not those who seek you, O Lord.
The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of distress.
They trust in you who cherish your name,
for you forsake not those who seek you, O LORD.
You forsake not those who seek you, O Lord.
Sing praise to the LORD enthroned in Zion;
proclaim among the nations his deeds;
For the avenger of blood has remembered;
he has not forgotten the cry of the poor.
You forsake not those who seek you, O Lord.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 17:14-20
A man came up to Jesus,
knelt down before him, and said,
“Lord, have pity on my son,
who is a lunatic and suffers severely;
often he falls into fire, and often into water.
I brought him to your disciples,
but they could not cure him.”
Jesus said in reply,
“O faithless and perverse generation,
how long will I be with you?
How long will I endure you?
Bring the boy here to me.”
Jesus rebuked him and the demon came out of him,
and from that hour the boy was cured.
Then the disciples approached Jesus in private and said,
“Why could we not drive it out?”
He said to them, “Because of your little faith.
Amen, I say to you,
if you have faith the size of a mustard seed,
you will say to this mountain,
‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.
Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Jesus has already shocked his disciples by telling them in advance what is going to happen to him as Messiah. Now he goes further and tells them that they, too, will have to have a part in his experience.

They are to follow in his footsteps. Like him, they are to be ready to take up their cross, whatever it may be, and carry it behind him. For some, it will mean dying for Christ and the Kingdom. For others, it will mean living totally for Christ and the Kingdom. Notice, Jesus tells them to take up their own cross, not his. That cross will be different for each person; it takes the form of some difficult thing which it is clear we must accept and not run away from. It is not to be sought for; that would not be a healthy thing to do. It will come, unmarked and unchosen but clear.

The other way, to avoid all pain and seek only what brings pleasure and enjoyment, is to go down a cul-de-sac, a blind alley that leads nowhere. That is what we mean by trying ‘to save our life’. It is a sure way to lose it.

What is the use of “gaining the whole world”, becoming a multi-millionaire and being profoundly unhappy? Living for oneself only is to end up finding one’s self dying. Letting go of one’s life to live for others, to live for truth, love and justice is to live a full life, even if shortened by physical death. Many of the saints died long before their time but achieved in a few years what most of us cannot do in a long life. “Consummatus in breve, explevit tempora multa” is a scriptural phrase applied to some of the saints who died relatively young. It says that, although their life came to an early end, they had filled it with many good things.*

The Irish Jesuits


Sarah in the tent said...

'O faithless and perverse generation, how long will I be with you? How long will I endure you?'

'Too pure are your eyes to look upon evil, and the sight of misery you cannot endure. Why, then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence ..'

Our Lord's words seem harsh and impatient, but the reading from Habbakuk shows that He is echoing a teaching from that prophet about the nature of God, indicating His own divinity for those familiar with Habbakuk's writings.

The answer to the question 'how long will I be with you?' is perhaps, for the faithless: until you yourselves kill me. The answer for the faithful is: always.

There is an apparent illogicality in Our Lord telling the disciples they were unable to drive out the demon because they had too little faith, and then saying that even a tiny amount of faith (a mustard seed) is enough to move a mountain. Because, if that is the case, their little faith ought to have been enough to deal with one miserable little demon! But His words point to the importance of faith in faith itself; long term faithfulness to it in the faith that it will grow into a fine tree, as the mustard seed does.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

I have learned that there are many blessings in the pain -- and, often, pain is only pain if we choose to define it as such. People sometimes mistakenly think that I have "suffered" because I have three children and two grandchildren with multiple birth defects. They simply do not understand. These children are not burdens; they are blessings. I will be forever grateful that God entrusted them to me.

Sarah in the tent said...

'if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move.'

I've been puzzling about this because it seems exaggerated and misleading, and I do not believe Christ exaggerates or misleads.

He says 'this mountain', not any mountain. The mountain in question is the holy mountain of the Transfiguration and the context is the Disciples own attempts at mission.

Peter at first wanted to build a shrine on the mountain, following the traditions of his ancestors, especially Jacob's impulse to build the shrine of Bethel (house of God) after the ladder vision. Instead of people coming to a shrine on the holy mountain, Our Lord says that, by faith and their own words, the Disciples will send the holy mountain wherever they wish. In a sense, Peter's epistle referring to the Transfiguration is an example of sending out the holy mountain.

Our own church buildings, containing their tabernacles, are perhaps a physical manifestation of the holy mountain of the Transfiguration. The encounter with Christ in the Eucharist can be lived as a Transfiguration event.

Peter did not build a shrine. Christianity is not territorial because Christ's Kingdom is not of this earth.