“I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.”
So Habakkuk the prophet cried out to God wondering about the violence and suffering around him. While Habakkuk spoke over 2,500 years ago, he might well be speaking to us today. We look around today and see racial strife, domestic terrorism, and a political campaign revealing our divisive culture. We see these things and ask, as did Habakkuk, “How long, O Lord?” How long will there be violence, ruin, misery, strife, and discord?
The readings for the Twenty-Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time provide a three part answer on what to do while we wait for God.
First, as Habakkuk declares, we must trust that God will bring about justice.
Then the LORD answered me and said:
Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets,
so that one can read it readily.
For the vision still has its time,
presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it,
it will surely come, it will not be late.
We must persist in hope that God will overcome evil, lift up the lowly, and bring joy to the poor. As Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently said, “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Or, as it is put in Psalm 95, we should “harden not [our] hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert” but instead trust God because “we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.”
The second part is that we must work to end evil and suffering. While we must not doubt that God will bring about justice, this does not let us off the hook. We are not excused from acting. This is Jesus’ harsh reminder for his disciples. They despair of their faith, and Jesus rebukes them saying if they had just a little, just the size of a mustard seed, then they could do this work.
Jesus goes on and gives a jarring teaching. We are used to the Jesus that tells the story of the father who loves so generously that he runs out to welcome the younger prodigal son as well as the unforgiving elder son. We are not used to the Jesus who rebukes those who would be generous with a servant—“Come here immediately and take your place at table”—and says that, after a day of working in the field, the master should tell the servant, “Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished.”
Jesus’ teaching reminds us that we are to work, relentlessly, for justice and love. In fact, we should be accusing ourselves for not working hard enough, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.’” While we must not waiver in our hope in God, we must never relent in carrying out the work that God calls us to do. We must, at every turn and in every aspect of our lives, work to carry out a generous love of neighbor, stranger, and enemy.
Finally, we are not left alone to labor against evil. We could easily despair of the kind of work Jesus calls us to do. It seems daunting and overwhelming. There is much to do. It is difficult just to make it through the day, to do just enough to keep everyone safe and sheltered. On top of this, we also suffer from original sin that can trap is in our petty biases and jealousies. How can we hope to do the work that Jesus calls us to do? How can we do the justice and love needed to further the kingdom of God?
In his letter to Timothy, St. Paul reminds us that we are not left to do this work alone. We can “bear [our] share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” God acts not only in the future triumph over evil but also now, in and through us. God helps us to face evil, to struggle for the good, because God “did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” This gift from God helps us to endure in the face of violence, injustice, and wrongs and gives us the power to overcome evil with love.
This is what what we must do as we wait for God’s final victory over violence, ruin, misery, strife, and discord. We must not despair in the face of adversity because we know God is working with us in “power and love and self-control.” We must love generously and be unsatisfied with just doing “what we were obliged to do.” Finally, we must hold fast to the belief that the triumph of the God who is love “will surely come.” And when it does, when God has ended evil and suffering with us and for us, we will sing with psalmist:
Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD;
let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us joyfully sing psalms to him.