To begin our reflection this afternoon, I think it might be important to remind ourselves of those verses from the book of the prophet Habakkuk. "God how long will I cry for help while you pay no attention? I denounce oppression and yet you do not save. Why do you make us see injustice everywhere? Are you pleased to look on tyranny? All we see is outrage, violence, quarrels, wars." Those are the words of Habakkuk 600 years before Jesus, but they could almost be read from our daily papers right now.
That same territory, the Middle East, is overwhelmed with violence and killing, hatred, war. Who dies? Innocent people, mostly. Civilians are being bombed, even hospitals where doctors, nurses -- people trying to save lives -- are killed through bombing. The violence is extreme. What does God respond through Habakkuk? He says, "There is a vision that you've got to hang onto." He describes it in rather vague terms. "Write down the vision; inscribe it on tablets so it can be easily read since this is a vision for an appointed time. It will not fail, but will be fulfilled in due time." What is that vision? For God a thousand years are a day; a day is a thousand years; there is no time.
Twenty-seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
So like yesterday, this is all happening, and the vision then is proclaimed by Jesus -- the vision of what will be peace. It's in the fourth chapter of Luke's Gospel. It's a part of the Gospel that I think is very precious and we ought to go back to it many times to build up our hope, to build up our determination about what can be. Jesus proclaims the vision and he comes into the synagogue in Nazareth where he grew up.
You remember the passage, probably. It's the beginning of his public life. They give him the scroll to read. He unrolls it carefully until he finds the words of the prophet Isaiah. Then Jesus reads, "The Spirit of God is upon me. God sends me to proclaim good news to the poor, to give the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim God's year of Jubilee, of blessing -- the time when there will be peace, the time when everyone will share all that God has given for all, the time where there'll be fullness of life for every person." That's the vision.
You remember what Jesus said at the end of that incident? He gave the scroll back to the assistant and then he sat down and all the eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Jesus said, "This day, this passage is fulfilled even as you listen." The reign of God (that's what Jesus is describing) is at hand ready to break forth. When we listen to Jesus and follow Jesus, that vision will come forth in its fullness. In the first lesson, Habakkuk reminded the people that it would take faith to make this happen, "The upright person will live by faith."
That's how the vision will be fulfilled -- when upright people live by faith. What does that mean -- faith? It doesn't mean giving ascent to doctrines. We do recite a creed at every Sunday liturgy, and we believe in this doctrine, that doctrine, one after the other, but that's not really what is meant by faith when Habakkuk talks about it or when Jesus talks about having this little faith as a mustard seed. No, the faith he's talking about is the faith of our relationship with God.
That's what faith really is -- you and I and all of us connecting with God, developing a deep relationship so we hear God deeper in our hearts; we hear God speaking. We can take that vision of Jesus and make it our own. We want to follow him. That's faith. Like the first disciples, we have to say to Jesus, "Increase our faith." How do we do that? I think probably the best way is to simply make every time we celebrate a Eucharist, like this liturgy today, a time when we really try to deepen our faith, our relationship with God through Jesus.
Do you remember (we hear it every year, one of the Sundays after Easter) that event that took place on Easter Sunday night? Again, Luke describes it in his Gospel how two disciples have left Jerusalem and they're on their way back to their hometown about seven miles away. Along the way, somebody comes walking along with them, and they begin to carry on a conversation. They come to an inn and the disciples are going to go in.
The third person gives a signal that he's going to keep going. They invite him in, so he comes and they eat together. You remember in Luke's Gospel, he describes how during that meal this stranger who was walking along the road begins to interpret the Scriptures -- all those Scriptures that spoke about Jesus, he explains them, and then they break bread together. The Word and the breaking of bread -- that's our Eucharist.
After that experience, the traveler disappeared and the two disciples raced back to Jerusalem to tell the rest what had happened. They said, "Weren't our hearts burning within us as we listened to his Word?" They were filled with this relationship with Jesus, a relationship of belief, of love, of devotion, determined now to spread that good news. That's how we deepen our faith. Every time we come to a Sunday liturgy, prepare ourselves to hear the Word, read the Scriptures ahead of time, maybe read a commentary, get an idea of what they're saying, then listen and reflect carefully and receive the Eucharist with love, with thanksgiving and our hearts, too, will burn within us.
Then we will not only know that vision of Jesus -- good news for the poor, blind getting new sight, downtrodden set free, the oppressed being given freedom and we've got a year of Jubilee where everyone has all he or she needs for a full life. That vision becomes ours when we enter into this relationship with Jesus, especially listening to his Word, breaking bread with him every week. That's the way that we will do, in fact, what Paul says to Timothy, "I invite you to fan into a flame the gift of God you receive through the laying on of my hands at baptism, (confirmation -- when you became a disciple of Jesus and hands were laid upon you) stir into a flame that fire of faith now, enrich it every week, and then the vision that Jesus will paint will become my vision, your vision, the vision of every one of us.
We not only will have it as our vision, but we will join with Jesus in the work of transforming our world into the reign of God where that vision will be fulfilled. Sometimes I feel pretty discouraged, and I'm sure all of us do, as all the violence, the killing, and the wars go on. But we don't have to be discouraged. We have to deepen our faith, our relationship with God through Jesus, and then be his disciples, carry this message of faith and hope and love into our everyday life.
Then not only will the vision be there, the vision will begin to break into reality and happen. Jesus says, "Faith as tiny as a mustard seed can move a deeply rooted tree from where it is out into the sea." Our faith can change our world, can bring about an end to the violence and the killing and the hatred. As we hear Jesus explain our Scriptures and join with him in the breaking of bread, we become his disciples and carry on his work, join in making that vision a reality.
[Homily given at St. Philomena, Detroit, Mich. The transcripts of Bishop Gumbleton's homilies are posted weekly to NCRonline.org. Sign up here to receive an email alert when the latest homily is posted.]