The Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
2016 – Cycle C
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4; Psalm 95; 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14; Luke 17:5-10
“I cry for help but you, O God, do not listen!
I cry out to you, “Violence!” [“Betrayal!” “I need help!” “I’m lost!” “I’m afraid of dying!” “I’m lonely!”] but you do not intervene.
Why must I look at misery?” [Habakkuk 1:2-3]
Have prayers like this ever risen from within you?
It is easy to imagine such cries rising from Syrian refugees caught in the midst of the civil war being played out in Aleppo or from an overcrowded boat being tossed about in the Mediterranean Sea. It is easy to imagine such cries rising from the family members of black men killed by law enforcement; from parents of starving, dying Somalian infants. It is easy to imagine such cries rising from families whose homes have been flooded or burned by nature or from Middle Eastern Christians being persecuted and martyred in the face of the wall of silence offered by Western nations.
But, have prayers like this ever risen from within you?
The diagnosis of cancer? An unjust job loss? The heaviness of the caregiver’s life? The loss of a spouse to the Alzheimer mind’s wanderings through memory and forgetfulness? Discovering oneself on the island of isolation with its feelings of loneliness; being friendless? A loveless marriage? The betrayal of adultery? The death of a child? Divorce’s pain and its companions: failure and inadequacy? When life is in disorder and there is no sense of justice?
I expect many of us have cried out to God like the prophet Habakkuk. And what was, what is, God’s answer to your painful prayer of pleading?
From such human and personal situations people have asked throughout the ages, why does God allow suffering? Why does God not answer the prayers of his sons and daughters? Why the apparent divine silence? Is God indifferent or might God’s explanation be beyond our understanding? Worse, might we not accept God’s explanation? In the face of such silence and without satisfying answers to these questions, many people have concluded that there is no God; that we are on our own.
Jesus prayed such prayers; what professor Bryan Spinks of Yale Divinity School calls “lost prayers”.
At the Last Supper according to John, Jesus prays that none be lost as Judas is betraying him to the authorities. He prays that we may be one as he and the Father are one. Yet the greatest of scandals continues to exist down to our own day; the divisions and the violence that has occurred among Christians. [See John 17: 11, 22]
More profoundly, God in Christ knows what it is like to feel the divine silence. “Let this cup pass from me without my drinking it…”, goes unanswered. Jesus’ prayer is taken away on the evening breeze drifting through the olive tree branches. We hear frighteningly similar words to that of the prophet Habakkuk as Jesus prays the opening of Psalm 22 from the cross, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? My God, I call by day, but you do not answer; by night, but I have no relief.” In these prayers of Jesus, God, through the incarnation experiences that deep human fear that there might be no God. In these experiences God knows what it is like to pray a prayer that seems to go unanswered. Saint Teresa of Kolkata seems to have spent a lifetime in the shadow of God’s silence.
What is the response to silence, any silence, divine silence?
Habakkuk will have none of it as he protests and stands his ground before God:
“I will stand at my guard post, and station myself upon the rampart;
I will keep watch to see what God will say to me, and what answer God will give to my complaint.”[Habakkuk 2:1]
Jesus stands to watch. He keeps watch from the abyss of death and the stillness of the tomb. Teresa watches and waits one hour every day in chapel in the presence of Christ.
They each respond to silence with silence. Not a silence of defiance but a silence of anticipation and expectation that God will give an answer. “For the vision has its time and will not disappoint…wait for it.” [Habakkuk 2:3] Silence becomes an invitation to abandon the question and trust. This faith filled trust emerges within us when we stop having our argument with life. Only on the third day did God give Jesus a resounding answer of vindication; for Teresa it was nearly 50 years!
The silence of God in the face of fervent prayer for a just cause is always disturbing but it is part of the weight of faithfulness.