27th Sunday 2019
Habbakuk 1:2-3, 2:2-4; 2Tim 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10
“Faith” seems to be the key word in our scripture readings today: “faith” not so much in the sense of “belief that” but “belief in”, trust in God, reliance on Him, confidence that, however tough the going may be, He will be with us, and He will bring us through.
I don’t know how you feel, but I can’t help identifying with the entire complaint, if that is the word, which Habbakuk utters.
“How long, Lord, am I to cry for help
While you will not listen;
To cry ‘Opression’ in your ear,
And you will not save?”
Oppression does appear to be rife throughout the world. Whether it is the oppression of religious and racial minorities in so many countries; the oppression of the poor by governments and wealthy corporations as, for instance, in the Amazon Basin; or the oppression of those who are falsely accused and denied justice in this country, oppression seems to hold sway.
“Why do you set injustice before me?
Why do you look on where there is tyranny?”
Why indeed? Justice seems very difficult to attain, especially for those who lack the financial resources to buy what may pass for justice. The powers-that-be seem very little interested in justice, and those who are denied justice have no recourse.
“Outrage and violence, this is all I see
All is contention and discord flourishes.”
That seems to sum up the political discourse in the country at the moment. You may well, like me, be shocked by the bitterness and hatred which characterise the current political shouting match, which cannot be called a debate, because a debate entails a willingness to listen. Ordinary decent people seem to be inflamed by hatred of those who hold views different from their own. The word “traitor” is bandied about, a very destructive word indeed.
Those who take a particular viewpoint, whether they be politicians or ordinary citizens, may be mistaken, they may be wrong-headed, they may be self-seeking, but they are entitled to a degree of respect: to descend to the levels of abuse which we are hearing shames us as a nation.
So where do we go from here? The scriptures are very clear: we have faith. We put our trust in God. “The upright will live by their faithfulness” says Habbakuk.
Does this mean that we sit back and rely on God to sort things out? Surely it does not. We take on the role of the servants in the Gospel, who work for the Lord, who realise that they can make only a limited contribution, who recognise that they are “unprofitable servants” as the Greek text actually says.
We do our best, recognising that we have received the Holy Spirit, “the Spirit of power and love and self-control” as St. Paul wrote to Timothy. That is what the Pope is doing in calling an Extraordinary Synod on the Amazon. That is why he constantly speaks out on behalf of migrants and refugees, and why he is always seeking to build bridges with Muslim leaders.
That is why some of us are pressing the bishops to be more pro-active on behalf of those who are falsely accused. That is also why all of us must be peacemakers in our own particular circles, why we must avoid inflammatory language, why we must try to calm others when they lack self-control, to encourage everyone to recognise the humanity and intrinsic goodness of those from whom they differ.
And we must pray. We do not expect God to wave a magic wand, but we ask Him to make use of our own small efforts, and to touch hearts and minds, trusting that He hears our prayers.