All three readings for this Sunday present us with a similar situation. Habbakuk, Timothy, and the disciples of Jesus all cry out for help. Habbakuk calls out, “How long, O Lord? I cry for help, but you do not listen.” The apostles cry out, “Jesus, increase our faith.” We can tell through St. Paul’s Letter to Timothy that he has obviously written to St. Paul asking for help as he falters in his ministry to the Church of Ephesus.
Habbakuk is questioning God in a situation with which I am sure we can all sympathize. He has asked God to intervene in the injustices which are prevalent in Judea because of tyrannical leaders. He cries out for justice. Why doesn’t the Almighty deal with them? God could depose them. How long must Habbakuk wait? God answers Habbakuk in a vision that assures him that God’s justice will prevail. “The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”
St. Paul writes to Timothy and reminds him of the gift that he has received from God through his ordination. “Stir your ardor into flame again. You can deal with your adversaries if you remember that God has given you the courage your need.”
In the Gospel, the disciples cry for more faith. For some reason, the framers of the Lectionary for Sunday Mass have chosen not to include the verses that immediately precede their cry for help. Jesus has just told them, “Things that cause sin will inevitably occur, but woe to the person through whom they occur.” However, then he adds: “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.”
This must have shocked them to the core. This attitude is social foolishness and goes against the primal instinct to protect and defend oneself. Revenge and retaliation are the accepted way. These new behaviors of deference and forgiveness may be hallmarks of the kingdom of God, but they are unrealistic fantasies in the world where most people live. The apostles are not ready for this way of life, and they do not think they can carry it out. “Lord, increase our faith.”
Jesus agrees they need faith. In fact, Habbakuk and Timothy are also in need of faith. However, Jesus does not support their assumption that a greater quantity of faith will help them. They do not need more faith. Rather, they need to be reminded about what faith is and assured that they have all they need to do what Jesus has enjoined them to do. Faith results from people opening to and responding to God’s initiating action. Faith allows us to cooperate with divine energy and to bring about the world that God envisions. Therefore, faith is not about unaided human powers. It is about human abilities in league with divine intentions and activity.
I am sure that each of us here could enumerate any number of situations in which we would like God to intervene and bring about justice just as Habbakuk does in the first reading. I am also sure that each of us has felt at one time or another just as Timothy feels – that we simply don’t have what is needed to counter our adversaries. Perhaps we have also felt like the apostles that we don’t have enough faith to conquer all the doubts and reservations we have about our ability to be the kind of people God expects us to be.
At the same time, I am also sure that there have been occasions in our lifetime when we have succeeded and have lived the life of a faithful followers of Jesus. St. Paul’s advice to Timothy has been reiterated by many a counselor or psychiatrist. Remember the gifts that God has given you. Tap into the strength that is ours because of our connection to Jesus. While the situation may be daunting and seem to be more than we can handle, it helps to remember something that St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Philippians: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me” (Philippians 4:13).
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator