Life & Soul

What to do when our old reassurances crumble

The Prophet Habakkuk and the Angel (1565), by Wouter Crabeth

The 27th Sunday of the Year
Hab 1: 2-3 & 2: 2-4; 2 Tim 1:6-8 & 13-14; Lk 17:5-10 (Year C)

“How long, Lord, am I to cry for help while you will not listen?” The prophet Habakkuk gave voice to the sense of abandonment experienced by the inhabitants of Jerusalem following the fall of the city in 6th-century BC. Everything that had symbolised God’s presence among his people had been stripped away. The Holy City and its temple had been destroyed and its inhabitants carried off into exile. It appeared that their prayers were unanswered.

Habakkuk reassured the people of God’s continuing presence, setting before them a vision of salvation. This promise would be their sole support at the lowest point in their history: “Write the vision down, inscribe it on tablets to be easily read, since this vision is for its own time only. If it comes slowly, wait, for come it will, without fail.”

An unfaithful people had been brought to absolute impoverishment. Our journey into the Lord will, in different ways, experience the same abandonment. The old reassurances that bolstered our lives might seem to crumble.

It is in such moments that we experience our own poverty of spirit, and are invited to trust not so much in what we can do, but in the Lord’s enduring promise of salvation, since “the upright man will live by his faithfulness”.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, and throughout his Passion, Jesus experienced that same sense of abandonment. In surrendering himself to the will of the Father he demonstrated the faith for which his disciples longed.

They had asked for an increased faith. Faith is neither earned nor gained by ourselves; it is uniquely the gift of the Father. Thus he was able to assure his disciples that their faith, be it no greater than the tiniest mustard seed, would be sufficient. Faith, however small, is an expression of the Father’s presence.

Our prayer can frequently hide a sense of entitlement. Unchecked, such hidden entitlement inevitably leads to frustration. The greatest freedom is to know, in the words of Jesus, “that we are merely servants and have done no more than our duty”.

Realising this, our lives are broken open to the unmerited joy of the Father’s love.