Homily for the 27th Sunday of Year C
Readings: Habakkuk 1:2-3;2:2-4, 2 Timothy 1:6-8,13-14; Luke 17:5-10
Theme: Faith and Service
Our readings today invite us to reflect on the themes of faith and service and the relationship between them. The first reading from Habakkuk, one of the lesser known Old Testament prophets, is a heart-felt lament directed to God. It reflects the distress of the prophet at what is happening to his country and his people. ‘How long, O Lord, am I to cry for help while you do not listen, to cry “Violence” in your ear while you do not save? (Hab 1:2). Why this cry of anguish? What is the cause of the prophet’s grief? Unfortunately, we know very little about Habbakuk – when or where he was born or when he died. Most biblical scholars date his prophecy around the year 612 BC. This was the time when the Israel was invaded by its powerful neighbour, Babylon, leading to massive destruction, chaos, and terrible suffering for the people. We see a similar scenario today with the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Habbakuk asks why the Lord, the God or Israel, allows this unspeakable evil to be visited upon his chosen people, the people he had loved into existence. ‘Why do you make me see wrong-doing, why do you countenance oppression?’ (Hab 1:3). The Babylonians’ attack on Israel leads Habakkuk to question his faith in God’s promise that he would always be Israel’s God and stand by his chosen people – a promise movingly expressed by the prophet, Jeremiah: ‘I have loved you with and everlasting love; therefore, I am constant in my love for you’ (Jer 31:3). Despite his anguish, Habakkuk does despair or abandon hope. He decides to keep watch and wait for the Lord’s response. When it comes, this response does not really address Habakkuk’s question. He is simply told not to lose heart, but to continue to trust in God and his promise to secure justice for his people: ‘You see, anyone whose heart is not upright will succumb, but the upright will live through faithfulness’ (Hab 2:4). Sometimes there is no easy answer to the injustices innocent people suffer at the hands of powerful but unscrupulous foes. They are called to a faithfulness which is nothing short of heroic.
In our gospel reading from Luke, the Apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. Their request may well reflect, not so much the feelings of the contemporary disciples of Jesus, but rather the doubts and fears of the early Christian communities for whom Luke was writing. As a minority group within the powerful and hostile Roman Empire, they must have feared for their very survival. What future could they have in such an environment? The anguished cry of Habakkuk surely resonates with minority Christian communities, decimated by persecution – a constant feature of the Church’s history. It is estimated that, at this moment, 340 million Christians, one is every eight, suffer persecution because of their faith. They can readily identify with the experience of Habakkuk and with the Apostles’ request of Jesus: ‘Increase our faith’ (Lk 17:5).
The faith the apostles asked for, and the faith we, too, need, is not primarily a better knowledge of Christian doctrine or the teachings of the Church. It is something more important. It is trust and confidence in the presence of God, especially when things go wrong and God seems far away. It is a resolute conviction that God will never abandon us. Being a Christian and taking the Gospel seriously is, as the German Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, reminds us, ‘a costly grace’. Yes, God has promised us his loving care, but he has never promised a life free of pain, difficulties, suffering, or even violent death. After all, as St Paul reminds us, ‘he did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for us all (Rom 8:32).
The second theme that emerges in our gospel reading and in the second reading is the theme of service: the kind service that does not seek any recompense; the kind of service that is based, not on a contract with an employer, but on a relationship of unconditional trust and love. Jesus uses the example of the service of a slave, but a better example is that of Jesus himself. At his last Supper with his disciples, he said: ‘I am among you as one who serves’ (Mk 22:27), and, to show what he meant, he washed his disciples’ feet – the action of a slave. And he commanded us, his disciples, to do likewise.
Our second reading reminds us that our service of others is a response to a gift of God’s Spirit. This gift ‘is not a spirit of timidity’, but ‘the Spirit of power and love and self-control’ (2 Tim 1:7). So, we must ‘never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord’ (2 Tim 1:8), even if this means being considered out of step with the dominant spirit of the times in which we live. Rather, we must ‘fan into a flame the gift we received’ (2 Tim 1:6) for the service of God’s reign in our world. I will end this homily with a beautiful Eucharistic prayer, said in time of need or distress, which expresses very well the meaning of Christian service.
‘Open our eyes to the needs of all. Inspire us with words and deeds to comfort those who labour and are overburdened. Keep our service of others faithful to the example and command of Christ. Let your Church be a living witness to truth and freedom, to justice and peace that all people may be lifted up by the hope of a world made new. Amen’
Michael McCabe SMA
To listen to an alternative Homily from Fr Tom Casey of the SMA Media Centre, Ndola, Zambia please click on the play button below.