Homily: 6 October 2019
Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4; 2Timothy 1-14; Luke 17:5-10
Today’s readings have unpleasant tidings for the here and now. Habakkuk has to live with his sinful contemporaries as well as with destruction and violence. The appointed time for him is in the future, not the time of his writing. Paul tells Timothy that he, Paul, is suffering for the gospel and needs Timothy to come to him and await the promise of life as he himself awaits it. Jesus tells his followers who ask for a stronger faith that without it they are like worthless slaves.
The Book of Habakkuk, written in very late 7 BCE, has three parts, and we have sections of the first two in today’s readings. The first part is a complaint; the second part is God’s response to the complaint, only a small part of which is given today. What we don’t get is God’s saying to Habakkuk, “I am raising up the Babylonians . . . a feared and dreaded people . . . a law unto themselves (2:6-7). Indeed! Early in the 6th century BCE the Babylonians conquered and laid waste Jerusalem. Part of the devastation they wrought in 586 BCE was the total destruction of Solomon’s temple, which contained the Ark of the Covenant. Be that as it may, the important words in our reading today from the Book of Habakkuk are in its last sentence: “the righteous live by their faith.” How important are these words? Paul quotes them in his Epistle to the Romans (3:17) and in his epistle to the Galatians (3:18). Consequently, we are given Habakkuk today to emphasize that no matter what the challenge, the righteous live by their faith.
In his letter to Timothy, Paul signals his present dismay by telling him that Phygelus and Hermogenes, his former disciples, “have turned away from me” (1:15), no longer believing in Jesus as Messiah. Paul, therefore, writes to Timothy to strengthen his belief and to have Timothy come to him and “join with [him] in suffering for the gospel” (1:8).
Now gospel is a word that Paul uses three times in today’s reading. And it is an important, if somewhat tricky, word. Volume VI of the twenty-volume Oxford English Dictionary gives the word gospel the better part of five columns in two pages. But the definition that applies to Paul is the first one. Gospel is: ”’The glad tidings (of the kingdom of God)’ announced to the world by Jesus Christ.” There was no other gospel available to Paul because his writings precede those of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Consequently, there is no such thing as the Christian church that would eventually be based on the evangelists’ gospels and on his, Paul’s, own words.
For Jews and non-Jews alike, therefore, in Paul’s time faith meant “accepting Jesus as the promised Messiah of the Jews” (Wills, 126). And, indeed, the Messiah made clear his mission, saying, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, nor one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Mt 5:17-18). That is the Jesus of the gospel that Paul lives by and preaches. Paul, therefore, “teaches his followers from Jewish scriptures only, and presents the Messiah as the fulfillment of the Jewish covenant” (Wills 127). When, therefore, Paul uses the word gospel, Jesus as Messiah is his gospel.
Luke’s gospel gives us that Messiah today. Jesus tells his followers to dispense with the niceties. Since heaven is to be their reward, there need be no Please or Thank You for doing what one ought to do. This doesn’t mean, of course, that to be good Christians we have to have bad manners. We must remember what Al Mazjkzak told us on the first Sunday of September: hyperbole was a normal form of rhetoric in Jesus’ time and he used it in his teaching. We note, for example, that Jesus very much likes to have a Thank You. An instance of this is in Jesus’ curing ten lepers. Only one returns to thank him. Nine others don’t. To the grateful one Jesus says, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well” (17:21). So giving thanks is important to Jesus. Luke gives us this event almost immediately following today’s reading about not giving thanks.
One thing that we should recall about the leper who returned is that he was a Samaritan. And another thing that we should recall is that Luke’s is the only gospel that gives us the Good Samaritan, who acts as we see Jesus acting. And, in his telling of the parable, Jesus praises the Samaritan’s personal care of the injured man whom a priest and a Levite pass by. And the Samaritan’s taking that injured man to an inn, after first tending to him on the ground, would be equivalent to one of us taking an injured person to his or her home or, in a serious case, first to Urgent Care. That is the Jesus of the more encompassing gospel unavailable to Paul. It is the gospel that we know from Matthew 7:12:. “What you would have others do to you, do to them. That is the Law and the prophets” (Wills 54). Dietrich Bonhoeffer magnifies that gospel verse to involve himself and us by saying, “God does not love some ideal person, but rather human beings just as we are, not [someone] in some ideal world, but rather in the real world.” That is . . . in our world . . . here and now. That . . . is our gospel.
Garry Wills, What Paul Meant. New York: Viking, 2006.
PRAYERS 6 OCTOBER 2019
That like Habakkuk and Paul when we find ourselves in difficult situations we may seek to understand exactly where we are and do our best to bring things to a satisfactory conclusion. LET US PRAY
For the people of the Indian province of Kashmir, whose independence has been revoked, who now live without telephone and internet service, are surrounded by soldiers, and confined to their houses or risk being shot. For these once free people, LET US PRAY
That members of Congress in their Impeachment Inquiry seek to fulfill the law and in no way abuse it, whatever provocations to do so may arise. LET US PRAY
AND YOUR PRAYERS PLEASE
FOR ALL THE PEOPLE AND PURPOSES MENTIONED IN OUR BOOK OF INTENTIONS, LET US PRAY
AND FOR THOSE WHOM YOU WOULD LIKE QUIETLY TO MENTION IN YOUR PRAYS, NOW.
LET US PRAY that in these tumultuous and confused and confusing times that emanate from our nation’s capital and our television newsrooms that we have it in us to be as stalwart as Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in his still more dangerous times, AMEN.
LET US GREET EACH OTHER WITH A SIGN OF PEACE.