Homily 27th Sunday of Year C: Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Hab 1:2-3;2:2-4; Ps 95:1-2,6-9; 2 Tim 1:6-8,13-14 and Luke 17:5-10
The Righteous shall live by faith (Habakkuk 2:4)
Few days ago, my last lectures of the week on the “the Prophetic Books,” was actually on the prophecy of Habakkuk. During the lecture I was really very passionate and enthusiastic in explaining, and sharing the theology of Habakkuk. I noticed one of my students, beaming with smile. I mean he was all lit up. You could see the joy, and sense of affirmation on his face. When I inquire from him, why he was smiling, He said to me “Fr. That is (i.e., the faith story of Habakkuk) this coming Sunday’s reading,” which is today.
And beginning with Habakkuk, the very theme, from my own point of view, that runs through today’s reading is how do we remain faithful and trusting in God’s plans, and gifts of believing, in the midst of hardship, threats, frustration, poverty, illnesses, temptations and all kinds of injustices.
Each of us I believe has personal stories that we can share on the feeling of seeming indifference of God in the midst of dangers and frustrations. Each of us can relate to the person and the faith story of Habakkuk. This prophet was contemporary of Jeremiah, Nahum and Zephaniah- shortly before the Babylonian exile. Habakkuk witnessed not only the internal problems in Judah but the sufferings, injustices and threats of colonialism imposed on them by the eternal forces of the Chaldeans. In the face of this, the first reading presents Habakkuk as a man of prayer. Like Job, he is a person who pours out his soul, mind and heart to God in prayer and songs. He prays not only on his behalf, but on behalf of his community. He is a patriot. He takes the peoples complaints and needs to God. But he is surprise that God has not acted as swiftly as he would think, to punish criminals and eliminate injustices.
God being God, he is never silence, nor reacts as human does! God gives his divine response to Habakkuk through a vision, and divinely commands Habakkuk to write it down on a tablet (2:2-4), so that everyone can see it. And the message of the vision, which will come to pass at God’s appointed time (2:3a), is that the arrogance, the bad behaviors and the injustices of the Chaldeans are just temporary. When the end comes the righteous, the remnant and the just will live, but the arrogant and the proud shall be punished (2:4-5).
What happens between the times of the fulfillment of the promise given in this vision, the end, is how we cherish this gift of faith- the ability for “the righteous to live by faith,” while in transit to God’ fulfillment. How do we remain faithful, steadfast, firm in love and forgiveness in the midst of hardship, while waiting for God to act?
Being former anti-followers of Christ, Saint is aware of these dilemma and difficulties, too. This is why he encourages folks, in his Second Letter to Timothy, that it was nothing else, but the gifts of faith from Christ Jesus that enabled him to move without shame from being a persecutor to a believer. It was the same faith, steadfastness in the love of the Gospel that gave him confidence and courage, strength and self control to proudly bear his sufferings and hardships, including imprisonment through out all his missionary journeys!
In fact, Paul seems to also be fully aware of Habakkuk. Lamenting over humanity that seems to have lost the sense of the Gospel Paul says in Rom 1:17, “for in it is revealed the righteousness of God from faith to faith’ as it is written, ‘the one who is righteous by faith will live.” In Galatians 3:11 he repeats, “no one is justified before God by the law is clear, for the one who is righteous by faith will live.” And the same endurance and faith is stressed in chapter 10 of the Letter to the Hebrews (vv.37-39).
This same theme continues in today’s Luke’s Gospel. Here, Christ recommends same faith to his Apostles, who must see themselves as servant in the ministry. Taking up the importance of forgiveness as a case study, Christ in the preceding verses to this Sunday’s reading told them it does not matter how many times injustices have been committed against you or one has been offended, you must forgive (Luke17:1-4). The reaction is obvious in the portion we have just read! They said to Christ, O my God, then “increase our faith,” (vv 5-10).
Of course it is Christ’s teaching that with faith, no matter how little, one can say to a stubborn tree like the “mulberry” move from here to the sea, and it will happen. In fact this tree, according to rabbis has a net work of complicated root system that it will take about 600 years to untangle them. But with faith this could be done within a twinkle of an eye.
The point here is that with faith we can do something that ordinarily looks impossible. For example, forgiveness! With faith one can forgive easily. With faith one can endure hardship like Paul and his contemporaries. With faith we can relate to Habakkuk and his contemporaries, in the face of illnesses, frustrations and all kinds of injustices that we may experience today, in our world, society, communities and neighborhoods. And we want to strengthen this faith by practicing. And the best way to practice our faith is to constantly stay in touch with Christ in Word and Sacraments, and in charitable relationship with our neighbors. For the righteous shall live by faith (Hab 2:4).