Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes. This week we learn from Habakkuk how the people of God can persevere through suffering. We learn about the importance of using our spiritual gifts and the spreading the true doctrine of God in the second reading. In the Gospel lesson we study three short lessons from Jesus on discipleship.
Introduction to the First Reading:
Habakkuk, like Amos that we looked at last week, was a minor prophet, meaning his writings were shorter than the ones who are called the major prophets. The overall theme of the book is how the people of God are to persist during their suffering by focusing upon Him. He wrote a bit later than Amos, in the late seventh century BC (610 – 605 BC). This was after the Assyrians had already taken the Northern Kingdom of Israel into captivity in 722 BC and just before the Southern Kingdom first fell to the Babylonians in three waves beginning in 605 BC. The context is very important to understand because the Babylonian army was soon to begin their conquest of Jerusalem, the holy city of the southern kingdom of Judah. The prophet cried out to God, “How long, O LORD, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save” (Habakkuk 1:2). The Book records God’s answer to his plea.
Habakkuk 1:2-3 NAS95 2 How long, O LORD, will I call for help, And You will not hear? I cry out to You, “Violence!” Yet You do not save. 3 Why do You make me see iniquity, And cause me to look on wickedness? Yes, destruction and violence are before me; Strife exists and contention arises.
2:2-4 2 Then the LORD answered me and said, “Record the vision And inscribe it on tablets, That the one who reads it may run. 3 For the vision is yet for the appointed time; It hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; For it will certainly come, it will not delay. 4 Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.”
In chapter 2 verse 4 of Habakkuk stated a very important principle for believers. “Behold, as for the proud one, His soul is not right within him; But the righteous will live by his faith.” Other versions state this more clearly, such as the NIV, which reads, “See, he is puffed up; his desires are not upright– but the righteous will live by his faith.” Here we see that one key characteristic of a disciple of God is having faith in Him. Righteous living depends upon faith, but faith must have an object. If our faith is placed in our perceived goodness, the good works we do for the church, or anything other than God, we are “puffed up and our desires are not upright.”
Here is an illustration of the importance of placing our faith in the correct object, God. If our mother asked us to go to the store and buy a gallon, she may be very surprised if we returned with a gallon of cod liver oil when she actually desired skim milk! It is very important to have the correct object of faith.
Later in Habakkuk, we found the object of Habakkuk’s faith. “The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to go on the heights (Hab 3:19a, b NIV). Habakkuk’s call was to the people of Israel to repent of their sin and return to God, the only true source of possible deliverance from their impending tragedy of the invasion by Babylon. That calling is just as appropriate today as it was to Israel. The righteous shall live by faith in God and not by faith in anything else including money, success, or good works. For we are saved by grace through faith and not of ourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, less any person should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).
We are often not able to understand what God is up to during the times that He allows trouble in our lives. Habakkuk’s call to God regarding why He allowed such terrible hardships to happen to the people of God is as important to his readers as it is to those in our day. When we suffer without seeing any obvious purpose or reason we too ask God, why? God answer to us is, “But the righteous will live by his faith” (Habakkuk 2:4c). We are called to live by faith in God’s plan, faith that God will work out all things for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
As I write this I am preparing to travel to the Detroit area to the funeral of a friend who died at middle age. Over and over, I have asked what I could have done to have prevented his death. I pray that somehow God will use this experience to draw me and others closer to Him, and that I would have the boldness to share the love of Jesus Christ with others through this tragedy. The person who died is one that has been on my BLL (big long list) for many years. I carry an especially large burden with the passing of each on this list What helps me get through it is the half dozen or so people formerly on the list who are now walking with God in faith. Through it all, the message of Habakkuk rings true, “the righteous will live by his faith.”
Introduction to the Second Reading:
The second reading is from the Book of Second Timothy. The theme of this section is Paul’s calling to young Timothy to continue his bold service of the Lord in spite of tribulation. This is similar to what we learned from the first reading in Habakkuk.
6 For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 7 For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline. 8 So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, 9 who has saved us and called us to a holy life– not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day. 13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. (2 Timothy 1:6-13 NIV)
Paul reminded Timothy to use the spiritual gifts given to him by God during his ordination service (v. 6, “laying on of my hands”). He said in verse 13, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus.” The caution to adhere to a pattern of sound teaching is a frequent admonition made by Paul and other New Testament writers. Doctrine is important, especially as we will see in the Gospel lesson today because teaching false doctrine leads others away from the true faith in Jesus. Such a practice, knowingly or not, will lead to a much greater condemnation for non-believers engaged in such practices. This leads us to the Gospel lesson for today from Saint Matthew.
Introduction to the Gospel Reading:
Though the Gospel lesson today only covered chapter 17 verses 5 – 10 we will cover the entire section from verses 1 -10 in order to take into account the context.
1 JESUS SAID TO his disciples: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. 2 It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. 4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. 7Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep. Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? 8 Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? 9 Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do? 10 So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’ ” (Luke 17:1-10 NIV)
This section of Luke contains teaching related to the topic of discipleship. It consists of three short lessons and concludes with a parable. In the first lesson, we see an admonition by Jesus about the seriousness of sin, especially for the person that causes people to sin. Jesus is saying that sin is serious enough that we should be willing to take drastic actions to overcome temptation. Any teenage boy can attest to the fact that girly magazines are an especially powerful attraction when hormones and raging. However, what Jesus is saying here is that the person that causes others to sin, in this case the publisher of the pornographic magazine, will receive greater condemnation. The parallel section in in Matthew adds this verse, “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come!” (Mt 18:7 NIV). Next, Jesus continues with a second lesson. Here we find that having a willingness to forgive is a second key characteristic of being a disciple of Jesus. Jesus said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” That was a hard saying to His disciples because their answer is to ask Him to increase their faith. Forgiveness can be a hard thing to do. The call to forgiveness is evident in our Lord’s Prayer recited every week in Mass found in Matthew Chapter 6. “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt. 6:14-15). Paul said in Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Jesus commands us to forgive others because he forgave us. The call to forgive others is a key characteristic of a believer and is a frequent topic throughout the New Testament.
Jesus’ third lesson is about faith, something that we found in the first reading from Habakkuk. After Jesus spoke about the need to forgive, the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith. Jesus then said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” His use of a mustard seed is significant since it was one of the smallest seeds with which his disciples would have been familiar. Jesus’ statement meant that even having the smallest faith was of extremely high value. If we plant a seed and water it this tiny object may sprout regardless of how much faith we put in this happening. The seed comes from God and His concern is about how we use it. God doesn’t call everyone to be spiritual giants, He just asks us to use our small faith for His purposes. As we saw in Habakkuk, the just shall live even by their tiny amount of faith the size of a mustard seed. Even such a small faith may move mountains.
Next, Jesus moved on to a parable, as He has done throughout this section of Luke. This parable was about a master to whom he posed a hypothetical question about his servant. “Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, ‘Come along now and sit down to eat’? Would he not rather say, ‘Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink’? Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?” The message was clear. As disciples of Jesus, we must serve without strings attached. Our obedience is not a matter of merit, but of responsive duty, though God does honor our Christian service. Although we will be rewarded in heaven for our obedience to God, He calls us to obey Him now, as a servant is called to obey his master. The servant will be rewarded, “after that you may eat and drink (v. 8),” but a servant’s work is a duty that does not earn them special merit with their master. God is a faithful Master Who will honor us for our service. When we make “sacrifices” in order to obey God, we should not pat ourselves on the back or look for special paybacks from God. We are merely living in light of the new life He has given us in Christ.
Some years back something very interesting happened at a church dinner that helped me to gain some insights into these passages. For this event since our name fell in a certain range, we were supposed to bring a large dessert. My wife baked up one of her most amazing treats, peach berry cobbler with a dish of freshly made whipped cream. I dropped Christy off at the door of the church and she carried the still hot cobbler downstairs along with the dish of whipped cream. When we got inside the organizers told her to find a table that did already have a dessert and just place it there. Frankly, I was concerned that we would not get any of this lovely treat but began resigning myself to the fact that we would not be able to enjoy any of the delicious delicacy. My wife set out to find a table without a dessert, but was unable to find a table that did not already have a dessert. Next, I told her to just place the dessert on our table and get on with the dinner as I turned away to speak to someone behind me. As we were milling about trying to decide what to do, I suddenly heard a loud crash. As I turned around, I saw that the delicious cobbler had splattered all over the floor! I was shocked and just stood there in disbelief for a minute as our hosts began rushing around trying to figure out how to clean up the mess on the floor. I didn’t have any cobbler that night!
As we went through the dinner and the service that followed, I reflected on the intentions of my heart during this event. My wife’s motives were pure; she wanted to bring the very best dessert possible for whoever received it. Mine were not so pure; I intended all along to save some for myself. God evidently had other intentions by showing me a lesson in allowing the eventual disaster. Serve God with a pure heart without strings attached and He will honor you.
1. The mustard seed, though it is one of the smallest seeds, can with proper soil and watering, sprout and grow into a large bush whether or not we have faith that it will grow or not. It’s specially designed by God to do just that. Read Hebrews 12:2 and Ephesians 2:8-9 below.
Eph 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith– and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast.
Heb 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
Who provides the seed of faith for which you are called to sow to produce God’s fruit in the Kingdom?
2. Refer to your answer above. With the source or your faith determined, how can your faith be improved, enlarged or expanded? Considering its source, is it productive for us to feel guilty if we don’t have “enough faith”? What would be a more appropriate response?