Sunday, October 3, 2010

Just Doing What We are Obliged To Do

How long, O Lord? I cry for help, but you do not listen! [Habakuk 1:1]

Who hasn’t felt like Habakuk at times? Who hasn’t felt helpless and abandoned? Even saints – some of them at least – have been know to suffer through the so-called “dark night of the soul.” Some people just never seem to get a break, No matter how hard they try, things just don’t go right for them. Jobs are lost. Careers fail. Husbands and wives betray each other. Children disappoint their parents. Sickness strikes indiscriminately. Time and time again, the sheer frustration of it all takes its terrible toll.

For some, the struggle and pain of it all is a strong argument against God and an unassailable complaint about God. Habakuk too wants an answer to all the suffering he sees. For Habakuk, however, his lament is not a complain about God, but to God – an acknowledgment of God’s perplexingly mysterious power in the face of human limitations. Complaining to God, rather than about God, Habakuk becomes a spokesman for hope: For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint… the rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live. [Habakuk 2:3-4]

Nice words, to be sure, encouraging words even; but what exactly does it mean that the just one, because of his faith, shall live?

Faith, famously defined in the New Testament as the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen [Hebrews 11:1], is easier said than done. Hence, even the apostles asked, Increase our faith!

Like Habakuk, Jesus spoke words of encouragement to his apostles [Luke 17:5-10], assuming that one is encouraged by the image of a mulberry tree, despite its deep and extensive root system, being uprooted and transplanted into the sea! Where, one wonders, would one ever find sufficient faith even to try to transplant a mulberry tree into the sea?

Personally, I can think of no particular reason to want to transplant a mulberry tree into the sea. Like the apostles, however, I do want to increase my at times just barely sufficient faith. At minimum, I want to have enough faith, as Habakuk says, to live.

Indeed, it’s in the living, day-in, day-out, that Jesus seems to suggest that faith is to be found, as unprofitable servants doing what we are obliged to do. Even supposing I did somehow someday miraculously transplant a mulberry tree into the sea, whom would that benefit, what difference would that make over the long haul? On the other hand, if I could at least qualify as an unprofitable servant, successfully doing what I am obliged to do, now that might make a difference!

Faith is about living daily the way we are supposed to live, becoming over time, through the kind of life one lives in response to God’s grace, the kind of person God intends one to be –striving to live by faith, surrendering to God with confident hope and love.

Perhaps living as we do now, in a culture which for decades has overdosed on image and special effects, doing what one is supposed to do may lack the spectacular drama of transplanting a mulberry tree into the sea. It is, however, in fact the real challenge of a humanly and morally worthwhile life, the real challenge that faces each of us every day.
Homily at Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN, October 3, 2010

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