The prophet Habakkuk is not in a happy space. He feels helpless in the face of danger and his prayer is full of frustration. He is totally exasperated that God has not stepped in to stop all his people’s anxiety and fear. So loud groaning and lament run through his prayer: ‘How long, Lord, am I to cry for help while you will not listen; while I cry to you of oppression and you will not save? … Outrage and violence, this is all I see…’
One senses that Habakkuk’s lament is the perfect prayer for the untold millions who suffer so horribly in today’s world and who continually ask where is God in all of this. God, however, doesn’t respond with instant relief. Rather God calls for patience, that no matter what happens, one is not to lose hope. We are to keep on doing the right thing for the upright person lives by faith.
The question we may well ask is ‘why is God putting us through so much?” Some of it may be put down to a world darkened and flawed by sin. But there is also the fact that the spiritual like propels us onto a journey that involves risk and uncertainty. It is an exodus from self and selfishness so as to be free to enter into God’s world and respond to God’s love. Leaving our egoistic worlds behind, however, is never easy. It demands the daily risk of faith as we move forward into the amazing mystery of God.
Even though the apostles had Jesus by their side as a constant companion, they too were in a bit of a quandary. It all started well as they followed Jesus in wonder and awe and were captivated both by the words he spoke and the miracles he performed. But now in chapter 17 of Luke change is underway. He is on the road to Jerusalem and is predicting that he must suffer and die at the hands of the authorities. It would seem that things are no longer so rosy. For the apostles the very thought of life without Jesus was unthinkable. Without their friend and mentor, how could they ever survive? It would seem that they are now travelling in a flood of fear. And so, quite understandably they ask, ‘Lord, increase our faith!’
I’m sure we can all associate with these stories of trepidation and fear. The real issue is facing the future with hope. Most of us can endure many difficulties if we are assured that all will be well in the future. But that’s the one thing that both Habakkuk and the apostles are suffering from. They are unsure of the future which seems dark and threatening. However, in the case of the apostles, there is a glimmer of hope. They intuit a calmness and focus about Jesus that is reassuring, and so they ask for some of that belief.
Jesus replied to them: “Were your faith the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. What does Jesus mean by this exaggerated statement? My hunch is that for Jesus, faith is not an ideology that one must adhere to, but a person that one entrusts one’s life to. It is about surrendering one’s life to Jesus. The apostles had some belief in him, otherwise they would not still be with him. But it was small faith, like that of the mustard seed, sufficient only when all is going well. However, in a time of troubles something more is needed. But Jesus is not put off by their meagre faith. In the words of St. Paul, this small faith can be fanned it into flame, so that it can grow into a spirit of power and love and self-discipline.
We don’t have to go back to Habakkuk or the apostles to find a time of troubles. It is right here on our doorstep and we, too, can make the apostles prayer out own: ‘Lord, increase our faith!” We too need our faith to be fanned into flame so that we too can journey with hope and confidence into the future mystery of God. But how do we do this? My suggestion is that we begin by looking back. Looking back helps us to recognise that in all our trials and struggles, we have been companioned by a graceful presence. We may exclaim like Jacob after his day’s journey that ‘God was in this place and I never knew it’. The Israelites were wont to look back when they hit upon hard times. There is a lovely passage in Deuteronomy 1:29-32 where God gives them encouragement just as they dreaded entering the promised land because it was protected by giants. God said: “Do not take fright, do not be afraid of them. Yahweh your God goes ahead of you and will be fighting on your side, just as you saw him act in Egypt. You have seen him in the desert too: Yahweh your God continued to support you, as a man supports his son, all along the road you followed until you arrived here.”
Becoming more aware of God in our lives will help us realise that our journeys are sacred, unique, never to be repeated. If God has taken us so far, can we not allow this same loving God to guide us on our future ways? Yes, we all stand at the gate of tomorrow facing an unknown and uncharted future. It is truly a foreign land of faith.
Today God is reaching out to us, like Habakkuk and the apostles, to simply walk in faith. Meanwhile, let us pray for each other, asking God to be a love and energy for us, much greater than we can imagine.
Sunday, 2nd October 2016