October 2, 2022: Homily- 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

“How long, O Lord?  I cry for help but you do not listen!”

So says the prophet Habakkuk in today’s First Reading.  He’s pretty fed up with the social injustices he sees all around him, and has been crying out to God to punish those who are responsible.  And that isn’t happening.  Naturally, Habakkuk begins to get frustrated, begins to wonder if God is listening, begins to wonder if God is who he thinks he is.

Now, quite often in Scripture the things people say are pretty unlike the things we would say today – at least in how they sound to the modern ear.  But this verse?  These words?  Well, I don’t know about you, but they sound like something I might say, because at times, I feel the exact same way.

God, are you even listening?

Are we not  the people God is supposed to listen to?  We’re the ones here week after week.  We’re the ones who claim to be followers of Jesus.  We’re the ones who try to pass on our beliefs to the next generation.  We’re the ones who say the right prayers and share in the Sacraments and give some of our money to the poor.  That’s to say . . . we are the ones who have faith.

God, why aren’t you listening?

My dear friends, that word “faith” is a tricky one.  And my guess is that most of us haven’t really thought about what it means, or what the implications of having “faith” might be.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  There is one aspect of faith that we probably all share to some extent, one common thought we have about what it means to be people of faith.  And the thing I’m thinking of is almost certainly not an “aspect” of faith at all.  It might actually be a kind of misconception, a false assumption we make about how God “works”.  You see, many of us at times, like to think of faith in a way that can be summarized as follows:

We do certain things . . . and then God is sort of “obligated” to do certain things for us.

Maybe you don’t see it that way at all.  Maybe you really don’t fall into that category.  Yet, for two thousand years, the Church has had to push back at this sort of thinking.   And what is this persistent falsehood that doesn’t ever seem to go away?

The idea that God owes us anything.

And at first glance, we probably all want it that way.  We do something good and then God has to do something for us.  We say the right things and pray the right way and God has to give us what we want (within reason, of course).  And when that doesn’t happen, we get frustrated, and begin to wonder what God is up to.  Does God care?

We pray for a loved one to be healed.  And we wait . . . .

We pray for the perfect job.  And we wait . .

We pray for our marriage to get better.  And we wait . . . .

We pray for an end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And we wait….

We pray for an end to hunger and poverty and injustice.  And we wait . . . .

God, how come we’re not getting what we want?

“How long, O Lord?  I cry for help but you do not listen!”

It’s not easy accepting that God never owes us anything, not easy believing that we don’t always get what we deserve.  But think about it for a moment .  What we’re really saying is that we only want to get what we “deserve” when it’s something good.  What do we want God to do when we’ve done the opposite, when we’ve done something bad, when we’ve hurt someone, or cheated someone, or neglected someone?  In those cases, do we still want God to give us what we “deserve”?

I didn’t think so.

The amazing thing about having a God who never owes us is that it allows God to be God.  And that is a very good thing – because God’s way is ALWAYS the best way – even if we can’t see it, even if we can’t understand it, even if it is the opposite thing from how we would act or opposite to what we would want.  God’s “behavior”, his actions – his grace – is not dependent on us.  It is pure gift.  And that is a very GOOD NEWS – even if it might take a lifetime to see it that way.

And that brings us back to faith.

Faith is not easy to define.  Theologians have tried mightily, but words don’t always do it justice.  Sometimes it’s easier to understand faith by its effects, by the fruits it produces, by the difference it makes in the lives of those who receive the gift of faith with open arms.

And while Jesus reminds us of the power of faith, a faith so powerful that a mulberry tree can be uprooted and tossed into the sea at our command, he makes sure that his disciples don’t confuse this power with earthly power.

Rather, he makes clear that a true person of faith acts simply to fulfill what God is asking of him, simply because it’s the “right” thing to do, simply because faith comes with a kind of  “obligation” – a sincere duty to act in God’s interests and in no other.  That means we should never expect anything specific for ourselves, nor do what we do in an attempt to get God to give us what we want.

And that’s not easy.  In fact, it’s often the exact opposite, because faith is most alive when we give the most, forgive the most, love the most, and conversely, judge the least.  St. Paul puts it this way in our Second Reading from his Second Letter to Timothy.

“ . . . but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel

with the strength that comes from God.”

And you know what?   The amazing thing about authentic faith is not only the tangible difference it can make in our world, but also the intangible difference it can make in each of our hearts, a transforming power that makes each of us more than we were yesterday.  Imagine that.

And it is that sort of “new life” won for us by Jesus that enables us to rely less and less on striving to get what we want from God, that is, enables us to do what we do not for a temporal “reward”.   But rather, faith enables us to consider every good thing we do as a kind of profound “thank you” – a loving response to a God who has loved us first.

It is that sort of deep faith that allows us to:

Hope when things seem hopeless.

Trust when life seems spiraling out of control.

Believe even if evidence is hard to see.

Give even when we don’t have much.

Forgive even the big stuff.

Love even when we don’t feel like it.

And our incredible God gives all of those things to us (in faith) not because he has to, but simply because he loves us deeply, and knows what’s best for us and for the whole world.  Hopefully, that’s good enough for us.  It kind of has to be.  There is no other way.  Just THE WAY – the way that leads to the place where we truly belong.

Father Boat

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