The person of faith becomes so much part of the world of God that even God is one of the family, a person whom one can address in perfect familiarity, even to the point of complaining. In faith, this is the expected, the ordinary, and the “natural.”
One of the fascinating characteristics of the scriptures is the constancy with which they come up with provocative statements. The reader, on reflection, has to ask hard questions. Is this really what God is saying? Howcan He allow the inspired author to make that statement? How can I possibly make this a part of my own life?
We have especially good examples of provocative statements in our first and third readings for this Sunday. The second reading contains a more sober observation that can serve as a summary response to the other two.
The prophet Habakkuk lived at a precarious time in Judah’s history. The mighty Assyrian empire had collapsed before the Babylonians in 609 B.C. and a new enemy had arisen to threaten God’s desperate people (the “Chaldea” of 1:6 refers to Babylon). The prophet was writing at a time when this threat loomed large. The first part of the reading reflects his anguish.
What is most provocative in these verses is the manner in which the prophet challenges God. “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen!” Our traditional notion of piety would hardly recommend this kind of prayer. But there it is in the sacred scriptures, an accusation against God!
We do find examples of this kind of human questioning of divine wisdom in other books of the Bible. The most notable, of course, is the Book of Job, where the human protagonist challenges God to appear in a court of law with him. As far as we know, Habakkuk was the first to utter words of this kind to the God of Israel.
The saying about the power of faith is clearly provocative. While Jesus does not expect us to go around commanding sycamore trees to drown themselves in the ocean, one has to admit that it is a striking illustration.
Even more provocative but in a subtler way, is the parable about the servants. They are expected to go about their ordinary tasks in an unostentatious way. They are not to expect a handsome reward every time they pour their master a cup of coffee. Jesus’ disciples are to serve him in the same way: “We have done no more than our duty.”
This is provocative because, in a sense, serving Jesus is quite extraordinary. The total dedication to him, the acceptance of the cross, the serving of others in his name – these have always caught the attention of the world. How can they be said to be no more than duty?
The answer is faith. When one makes that total surrender to the Lord, the all else follows “naturally”. The extraordinary becomes ordinary. The unexpected becomes the completely expected. Saying “of course” to the difficult is the mark of the Christian disciple, the person of faith. Thus the joining of the saying of faith’s power to the parable of the servant-disciples is no accident.
The same explanation applies to the first reading. The person of faith becomes so much part of the world of God that even God is one of the family, a person whom one can address in perfect familiarity, even to the point of complaining. In faith, this is the expected, the ordinary, and the “natural.”
The Pauline author of the second reading had this kind of faith in mind when he tells Timothy to “stir into flame the gift of God…” We are to recognize our rich heritage whereby we can address God as our Father in a familiar way and can serve Jesus as easily and as readily as children of light.