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OCTOBER 7, 2007: Twenty-Seventh Sunday of the Year

Readings: 

Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
II Timothy 1:6-8,13-14
Luke 17:5-10

Ironically, a question arising from today's gospel is answered not only in our first two readings, but also is addressed in the gospel's first verses.

Luke's Jesus praises the servant who does what the master commands, no matter the extenuating circumstances. "When you have done all you are commanded," Jesus states, "say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'" The question is, "What exactly are these servants expected to do?"

From the first part of the pericope, their "to do" goes deeper than carrying out some specific rule or regulation. "The apostles said to the Lord, 'Increase our faith.' The Lord replied, 'If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, "Be uprooted and planted in the sea," and it would obey you.'" Jesus brings up a servant's obligations in the context of this "faith encounter."

For Jesus, faith isn't a commodity to which one can add ounces or inches. Faith doesn't require an increase of volume as much as it demands to be put to use. Those who operate from just a miniscule of faith can "move trees" if they actually utilize that faith. This statement conveys the same belief Margaret Mead referred to in her most famous quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Christian faith revolves around carrying on the dream the historical Jesus originally had an passed on to his followers. That's the meaning of "sharing in the faith of Jesus." We're obligated to keep alive Jesus' dream: to bring into existence a just, inclusive world.

This also seems to be what the author of I Timothy is speaking of when he encourages his readers, "Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us." The writer's convinced we've been entrusted with Jesus' faith, Jesus' dream.

The author encourages his readers "to stir into flame the gift of God that you have . . . ." He fears "cowardice" will push out the "power of love and self-control which are necessary to maintain such a radical dream.

He deliberately reminds us that any attempt to implement that dream will result in hardship. "Do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, not of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God."

In the late 600s and early 500s B.C.E., the prophet Habakkuk tried to keep the dream alive which Yahweh centuries before had instilled in the Chosen People. They dreamt of living freely in their own land, in control of their own destiny. Though the Israelites had believed that dream would be fulfilled after their great nemesis, Assyria, was definitely defeated in 626 B.C.E., Babylon's rapid rise created yet one more period of fear and instability. Their dream was close, yet so far.

That's why Yahweh commands the prophet, "Write down the vision. (It) still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it. It will surely come, it will not be late." In other words, "Hang in there! Dreams take a long time to come true."

There's one difference between Habakkuk and Jesus' followers. Unlike the prophet's audience, we must accept some responsibility for our faith-dreams' fulfillment. Only we, with the Holy Spirit's help, can cause them to take flesh and move our world to the place God wants it to be.

It takes lots of determination and hard work to become the community Jesus intends us to be. In the lifetime of many of us, our experience of Vatican II demonstrated that reality. It didn't all happen 45 years ago. Those 2,500 bishops who attempted "to stir into flame" the dream of Jesus presumed we'd continue the stirring for as long as we lived.