For Sunday, October 2, 2016, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
In our city there have been seventy deaths attributed to heroin and drug overdoses over the past seven weeks. That number included a sixty-three-year-old man and a one-year-old child. To add more sorrow to the already tragic, one of the young men who died was the medical examiner’s son. The weight of senseless loss looms heavily in our city and indeed in our hearts because, like me, so many wonder what our culture has done to contribute to such dire escapism, such ominous darkness as to lead folks to mainline prescription drugs, risking death.
Like the prophet who laments the social upheaval of his people, my heart shouts: “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?” My outcry goes further, asking has the world proved so fatalistic to our young folks, has the future become so grim, that nothing gives way to hope anymore? Is the drug culture only endemic to a greater agony of our national soul?
What do I expect? Myriads of angels to meet every addict in the bar or in the alleyways of despair? That would be nice, yet in the midst of crisis, the most important thing is to stop and reflect, to seek a new vision. It is exactly what the Lord does in Habakkuk’s situation. He does not give him a solution, but a vision.
God calls upon the soul of this good man to climb the mountain of faith and to see beyond the bodies lying limp to a new day when the vision of God would come to pass. It is like reading at a funeral liturgy the beautiful passage from Revelation where John sees “a new heaven and a new earth. The former heaven and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. I also saw the holy city, a new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rv 21:1-2). The challenge of the prophet is to wait for the vision of the Lord to come to fulfillment.
The apostles are faced with a similar challenge. They have chosen to follow Jesus Christ and walk with him through the labyrinthine pathways of human frailty and darkness. They have watched him set the demonic free. They have witnessed bread broken and multiplied. They have been with him when he raised the widow’s son and healed women and children.
They, too, want to be equipped for the task and therefore realize they need more faith. Bucketsful of faith! Jesus responds to their request for an increase of faith by exhorting them: if their faith were the size of a mustard seed (smaller than a poppy seed), they could speak to a mulberry tree to be uprooted and cast into the sea. The irony is that the mustard seed is the smallest of seeds and the mulberry tree kept a deep, entanglement of roots beneath the soil leaving it impossible to uproot (Bergant, Dianne, CSA. Preaching the New Lectionary, Year C. Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2000, p. 382).
Yet Jesus says even cultivating the smallest faith can do the impossible. The story that follows speaks to the reality that faith cannot be quantified or measured. Faith is about relationship, a relationship to Christ, the source of all love and mercy. If a servant worked hard all day in the fields, he must not expect special privilege excusing him from his work at home. No, the nature of service is to serve and one serves in love. Does a mother with a sick child take a break at night? Or does she hold the child until the fever breaks? Does a nurse put his feet up during his watch hoping someone else picks up the slack? Or does he continue to go to his patients with compassion and mercy? Does the breadwinner in the family not show up to work or does she weigh out the measure of responsibility it takes to provide for the family?
Here is where faith abides: the steadfast, persevering efforts to keep love alive, to serve those we are committed to. That is the vision of faith. Write it down!
Does the Lord ask for anything less? Jesus says faith is not measured. It is lived. It is lived through serving God and God’s people, not looking back but looking ahead where we might one day see mulberry trees floating in the sea.
Mary K. Matestic, MTS
you walked upon this earth long before we arrived.
You gave us your vision of hope;
and though we walk in the shadow of death,
it is good to know that you are always at our side,
with your kindness and mercy
leading us to places we never dreamed we would go.
Indeed, give us the patience and perseverance
to continue your work here in this, our time,
trusting you to bring about your vision.
Watch over those who flounder and give up.
Meet them in the kindness of family and friends.
Deliver us all from despair,
and help us keep our eyes upon you who give us faith.
Enough to uproot trees,
enough to write down what is still to come,
enough to wait for your vision fulfilled.