OCTOBER 2ND, 2016: TWENTY-SEVENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
How long, O LORD? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not intervene.
Why do you let me see ruin;
why must I look at misery?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and clamorous discord.
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
For the vision 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.
The rash one has no integrity;
but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.
I remind you, to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands.
For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice
but rather of power and love and self-control.
So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord,
nor of me, a prisoner for his sake;
but bear your share of hardship for the gospel
with the strength that comes from God.
Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me,
in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit
that dwells within us.
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.
“Who among you would say to your servant
who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field,
‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’?
Would he not rather say to him,
‘Prepare something for me to eat.
Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink.
You may eat and drink when I am finished’?
Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded?
So should it be with you.
When you have done all you have been commanded,
say, ‘We are unprofitable servants;
we have done what we were obliged to do.’”
According to most scholars of the Christian Scriptures, Luke is the first author to write presuming he and all the members of his community would die natural deaths before Jesus returned in the Parousia. What Jesus’ original disciples believed would be a short interval between his death/resurrection and his Second Coming, now by the mid-80s, second and third generation Christians were discovering it would comprise an entire lifetime. Though prior authors had trained their communities to be sprinters, Luke was in the business of training the members of his church to be long distance runners. There was now an unforeseen element of time present in carrying on the ministry of Jesus. People now were being asked to be other Christs for much longer than the historical Jesus had originally carried on his ministry.
More than six centuries before this particular Capernaum carpenter shuttered his shop and began his itinerant preaching ministry, the prophet Habakkuk also must deal with a divine delay: Yahweh’s rewards and punishments. Habakkuk wants to make certain God knows what’s happening. “How Long, O Yahweh? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?” God’s simply not doing what the prophet presumed God would immediately do. Though Yahweh assures him he will not “disappoint,” that’s not very helpful to Habakkuk in the here and now.
Perhaps we have an advantage over Habakkuk and Luke’s community: our belief in evolution. When people of faith thought the world, as they knew it, came into existence just as they knew it, it must have been much more difficult to tolerate the time it took for God to carry out God’s promises. But since the days of Darwin and especially since the theology of Teilhard de Chardin, we’re more accustomed than our ancestors to things happening over a long period of time. This world and we humans didn’t pop up in the blink of an eye.
Teilhard was convinced it was the weakest – not the strongest – link in the evolutionary chain that eventually evolved. When push comes to shove, the strongest doesn’t have the ability to adapt. Like the ultra-strong dinosaurs who couldn’t adapt to a post-meteorite world, it simply ceases to exist. According to Teilhard, what makes us Christians the weakest link in the evolutionary chain is our determination to love those around us. Nothing weakens us more than to love another person. To survive we must adapt and change. In our case, the change and adaptation only happens by loving. Centuries of loving have eventually helped us eliminate slavery, give women the right to vote, and regard all people as our sisters and brothers, no matter their race. The only problem is that it took centuries to pull this off, to evolve to this point. It didn’t happen on Easter Sunday night.
The unknown author of II Timothy would no doubt agree that enduring such a long period of time before change happens is one of “the hardships we bear for the sake of the gospel.” Likewise, when Luke’s Jesus assures us we only need “faith the size of a mustard seed,” to uproot and replant trees, he mercifully doesn’t tell us how long that process will take. We’re simply his servants, people who are trying to implement his 2,000 year old vision for this world, people constantly amazed at the evolving world we’re creating, the “unprofitable servants” who are simply doing what we’re “obliged to do.” It’s just taking a little bit longer to experience the results of our loving than many of us had originally planned.