Luke 17 5:10, 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
When our date does not arrive at the appointed time, we text or call. Before cellphones, what did we do?
Now that email connects us almost instantaneously, we are pressured to respond just as instantaneously. What did we do before email, when we had to write letters longhand and walk to the mailbox?
The wonder of technology is instantaneity and the consequent predictability, or at least some semblance of it. There is less waiting now, which means less stress. But we find that we have less time now, which means more stress. No wonder this wonder of tech and predictability has us on edge.
No wonder too that one of the first casualties of this age of greater predictability is faith. It seems that the more predictable things are, the less faith we need. Which is sad. Our faith in God is not faith in a God of the gaps. There was a time when the French mathematician and physicist Laplace was asked why, in his comprehensive description of the solar system, he did not seem to have assigned a role for God to play. He is said to have famously replied, I have no need of that hypothesis.
The role of faith is not to predict how the heavens go. The sciences can very well do that thank you. And even if faith (put in superstition as well) thrives on the uncertainty and ambiguity of it all, the function of faith is not to add a couple of equations to the scientific description of reality. If faith is not a filler of gaps or a calculation of forecasts, what then is it about?
We get a sense of how trying this thing called faith can be from the way the believer jabs at heaven in the first reading today. WRU? In a capsule of less than five characters, that is what he is tweeting heaven about.
How long, O Lord? I cry for help
but you do not listen!
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.
WRU is the enduring question of God’s benevolence and location in the broken landscape of our world. It is the pained question of innocent and even not-so-innocent blood. It is also the question we ask today amid the confusion and blurring of the truth in this vindictive season of extra-judicial killings. Wru Lord? Where are you during this time of deception and rash judgment, this time of silence and fear, when people can so blatantly subvert the truth? Wru, why do you not intervene when someone is clearly lying?
Absent the God hypothesis, the only rational explanation it seems to the abiding darkness and disarray is that we’re on our own. It is a frightening thought, to confess that we’re alone and that we’ve brought this freely upon ourselves.
God’s somewhat cryptic reply to our questioning is: Wait. “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. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.”
In the Gospel, when the disciples ask for more faith, Christ’s response is to chide them for their lack of it. How can you ask for more faith when you don’t even have a gram of it to begin with? Then he puts them in their proper place by telling them they shouldn’t feel so entitled since they are mere servants and their duty is to wait for and wait on their master. These are harsh words which clash with whatever Christ has told us about our being God’s very own, slaves no longer, but friends.
But perhaps the servant-master image is not so much a statement of our identity as it is an assertion of transcendence and God’s proper place in this relationship of faith. However remote and intangible that assertion may seem at times, to the person of faith, that assertion of transcendence is a source of interior power and hope.
And so wait we will, and rash we will not be. We shall learn to keep vigil for that vision which “still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint.” We shall learn the patience we need to wait through the night, through the vagaries of human choices, the unpredictable shifts of dark and light. We shall learn to keep still that we may move with the One who has the power to move mountains and uproot trees.
We waited before. We have no delusions of instantaneity and predictability. Our faith in the One who loves us is our assurance that our wait will not be in vain. Our faith in the One who waits for us is the source of our boldness and hope. If we have to, we can wait some more.