We often misunderstand what biblical faith is all about. We think of it as believing in specific doctrines or dogmas, in a certain package of "truths," like, "I believe in the Trinity," or "I believe the Catholic church is the one, true church." Frequently when asked what we believe, we instinctively recite the Nicene or the Apostles' Creed. Our sacred authors, on the other hand, encourage us not to believe in things, but to believe in a person, to share the hopes and dreams of a particular individual, even when it seems those hopes and dreams will never be realized.
That certainly seems to be the case with the late 7th century BCE prophet Habakkuk. We're not exactly certain about the precise "violence, destruction, strife and clamorous discord" he and his community were experiencing. But it was deeply disrupting their faith in Yahweh. How could God be tolerating such a drastic change in God's plan for the Chosen People?
Yahweh never provides the prophet with an exact end-time for this painful period. Habakkuk is only told to "hang in there." God's vision for the community hasn't changed; its implementation has simply been delayed. "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."
Active sometime in the last third of the first Christian century, the unknown author of II Timothy is facing a parallel problem. The earliest believers in Jesus expected him to return shortly after his death and resurrection. They hadn't counted on a long interval between those two events.
Writing in the name and tradition of Paul, our author is concerned that Jesus' delayed Parousia will cause the faithful to renege on carrying out all of Jesus' vision. Like Timothy, the readers of this letter are encouraged to "stir into flame the gift of God that you have ...." Being another Christ isn't for sissies. "God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.... Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God." The risen Jesus expects us to do what's necessary to carry out his/her dream, even though that dream isn't going to be fulfilled in the near future.
Luke's Jesus encourages us to do the same. Just a little faith in implementing Jesus' vision will symbolically help us to "uproot" trees in Jesus' name. Yet, at this point in salvation history, one of our main tasks is just keeping that faith alive.
The evangelist is convinced Jesus will eventually return, though it won't be in his or his readers' lifetime. But in the meantime, we, like good slaves, must be committed to carrying out whatever the "master" has commanded us to do. If we plan on one day eating at Jesus' table, we also must plan on doing what we're "obliged to do" between now and that glorious, heavenly banquet.
Over nineteen centuries later, we're still waiting for Jesus' return. The delay has bogged many of down in "churchy trivia." We've so concentrated our efforts on the small "things" of faith that we've forgotten Jesus' big picture: his dream for all people and all creation. It's much easier being Christians that way; doesn't take a lot of courage or effort.
Yet, every weekend when our Eucharistic Scriptures are proclaimed, we don't hear about rosaries, novenas or perpetual adoration. We hear a vision proclaimed, a vision we commit ourselves to carry out every time we take from the Eucharistic cup; the vision of that person in whom we have faith.