A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
B. Reflection & Dialogue:
A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)
First Reading (Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4). The upright man will live by his faithfulness. This is a very interesting reading, and also an important one from the point of view of God’s relationship with humanity, and also for the human mind’s understanding (or lack of understanding) of God’s ways. The prophet Habakkuk puts a direct question to God as to where he stands in the presence of obvious oppression and injustice without saving: “Why (O Lord) do you look on where there is tyranny?” This is a question older than Habakkuk and is still with us. We can give a date for this question of Habakkuk and the situation that occasioned it. Mention is made of the Chaldeans (1:6), a fierce and impetuous nation. The reference is to the Neo-Babylonian Empire that was victorious over the Assyrian Empire in 626 B.C., and became masters of Palestine from 609 onwards under the leadership of Nebuchadnezzar from 609 onwards, especially about the 600. Habakkuk tells us that as a prophet, one (as another prophet puts it) who can stand in the counsel of the Lord, he stood on his prophetic watchpost, keeping watch to see what the Lord will say and answer concerning his complaint. The Lord answered and told Habakkuk to write the vision down, and in plain easily readable writing so that passers by may read it. It would be a kind of road sign. The vision was thus intended not for Habakkuk alone. We are not explicitly told what the substance of God’s reply was, but it apparently referred to God’s concern for his people and to the righting of injustice. Its very ambiguity could give it wider significance. The oracle, the divine reply, is presented as having a force of its own, pressing ahead for its fulfilment, a fulfilment that would certainly come. But fulfilment need not be immediate, and patience is indicated as a requirement in case of delay. God’s ways are not the ways of humanity with regard to the fulfilment of prophecies. Habakkuk’s text envisages two different attitudes in this regard. One is that of the proud, whose soul is not right. The other is that of the just, the righteous, persons who will live by their faithfulness, faithfulness in the sense of steadfastness, ongoing adherence to God whose promise will come true. The prophet Habakkuk himself would be one of those, and could apply to himself the sentiment found at the end of the Canticle that completes his collection of prophecies (Habakkuk 3:17-19):“Though the fig tree does not blossom, and no fruit is on the vines; though the produce of the olive fails and the fields yield no food; though the flock is cut off from the fold and there is no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will exult in the God of my salvation. God, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, and makes me tread upon the heights.”
Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 94). O that today you would listen to his voice! Harden not your hearts.
Second Reading (2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14). Never be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord. As was mentioned on an earlier occasion here when introducing these letters, some scholars have expressed the view that in these Pastoral Letters we have what they regard as Early Catholicism, with aspects of teaching and practice which became common in the “Great Church” in the second century and later such as the apostolic succession and the deposit of faith to be safeguarded. Timothy is presented in this letter and today’s readings as the successor of Paul, who had laid hands on him sacramentally, from which certain divine graces flowed, He is now asked to fan into flame the divine gifts then given to him. Although fidelity to the faith and to the “deposit” is stressed in these letters, rather than on the gifts of the Holy Spirit, this does not mean that the Church has become “institutional”. God’s gift to her was not the spirit of timidity, but the gift of the Spirit of power, love and self-control. Part of the new age in which Timothy finds himself means readiness to suffer for Christ’s sake, in this case in union with Paul, a prisoner awaiting sentence of death. Such readiness is a gift from God. Often in these Pastoral Letters the recipients are warned to be on the alert for various forms of false teachings, which are not in keeping with the Gospel message, “sound teachings” as this reading calls it. The accepted teaching of the Church is here called the “deposit” of faith, to be defended, explained and handed on, not however as something of human origin, but as something precious, to be guarded with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in the Church and in each believer.
The Gospel (Luke 17:5-10). If only you had faith. It is best to understand this reading in the larger context of Luke’s Gospel. We are in that section of the Gospel commonly known as the “Journey to Jerusalem”. Immediately before this chapter we had dialogue and discussions between Jesus and various groups and individuals. In the present chapter Jesus is addressing the disciples then with him, teaching that would hold true for disciples of later ages. In the verses immediately preceding today’s reading he speaks of the occasions of stumbling (scandals) that are bound to come, and a severe warning is given for the one who would be an occasion of stumbling (a scandal) for “one of these little ones”. There is here no question of sex abuse or of children. There were no children among Jesus’ first followers. The “little ones” are followers who may easily be led astray and away from faith in him. This is followed by an admonition of forgiveness again and again within the Christian community.
Immediately after this, in today’s reading we have the request of the disciples to Jesus to increase their faith. They may have been aware of the need of a deep faith to face the requirements of discipleship, and the temptation to forsake their mission. At the Last Supper Jesus said that Satan wishes to sift all the disciples like wheat, but Jesus had prayed that Simon’s (Peter’s) faith may not fail but that in due time he might confirm he brothers (Luke 22:31-32). Jesus’ reply to the apostles’ request is to stress the importance of faith, and illustrate the marvels it can perform by the example of a large tree with extensive roots. The disciples need deep faith, one that will work marvels. But success is no basis for self-satisfaction or pride. They still are merely
servants who have done their duty.
B. Reflection & Dialogue:
Today’s readings invite us to enter into dialogue with contemporary society, and some of its religious preoccupations. This we can do under three headings, one for each of today’s three readings.
1. Faithfulness, steadfastness, with perceived delays by God and the Church. We live in an era of rapid change in society, one in which prompt, if not immediate, answers are expected, sometimes in matters of faith and morals. From time immemorial God’s ways and actions have been questioned by believers and non-believers. The Bible tells us that Job had put together his book of evidence concerning some of God’s actions. God did reply to Job but did not give an answer to his questions. Neither did he to the prophet Habakkuk. In our day, as in those of Job and Habakkuk, believers will have to live with their faith in God, whatever their questioning. Faith is a theological virtue, a gift of God. The certainty of faith comes from God. No amount of questions can shake this certainty.
2. The Deposit of Faith. The concept of the “deposit of faith” can be traced back to the first century and the Pastoral Epistles. It is with us still, and is thus formulated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, under the heading: “The heritage of faith entrusted to the whole of the Church. The apostles entrusted the ‘Sacred deposit’ of the faith (the depositum fidei), contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church” (par. 84); “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God, in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.” (par. 97). What elements in the “deposit” are immutable, and which historically conditioned are matters currently under discussion. Given that this belongs to the mystery of faith, a faith approach and divine guidance are indicated.
3. The faith that works wonders. This has been stressed by Jesus, and remains an inspiration and source of consolation, for Church leaders and all the faithful.