Twenty-Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time
This weekend’s first reading is from the Book of Habakkuk. By comparison among the prophets it’s a short work, including only three chapters.
In some cases, little is known about the author of a given book. In this case, the prophet identifies himself by name (Hb 1:1, 3:1). However, this hardly stills all other questions.
Who was Habakkuk? Some experts believe Habakkuk was a prophet associated with the temple in Jerusalem. When did he write? The most accepted opinion is that Habakkuk wrote this work in the latter part of the seventh century B.C. At the time, the struggles among the great powers of the Middle East were numerous and intense, and the small Jewish community was threatened in the accompanying clash.
It is not hard to imagine fear and anxiety among the people of God. Desperation and confusion easily led them away from strict obedience to Him.
Like the other prophets, Habakkuk appealed to his contemporaries to rely on God for protection in the uncertain international situation. The prophet insists that the “just” will survive.
Paul’s Second Epistle to Timothy gives us the next reading. In this letter, the Apostle Paul reminded Timothy of the strength available to him as a bishop. Indeed, the reading refers to the ancient gesture of laying on hands, on the head of the candidate, still an essential and primary act in the ordaining of deacons, priests and bishops, not only for Roman Catholics, but also for Episcopalians and Orthodox.
Finally, Timothy was instructed not to preach his own mind, but instead to proclaim the Gospel of Christ.
St. Luke’s Gospel is the source of the third reading. This Gospel was read during the liturgies of recent weekends. What already has been heard in these earlier readings forms an umbrella over what is read this weekend. The overall theme is that following Jesus requires strong determination and much faith.
The Lord has many disciples who stumble and fall. It is a world of sin and selfishness. Temptations are rampant. Security and success result from faith, which we ourselves must nourish and preserve.
In the second part of the reading, Jesus employs a parable, speaking of a farmer and shepherd who has engaged a servant.
Scholars cannot agree on the term used to describe the servant. Is he “worthless” or “lazy,” “unprofitable” or “unproductive”? One ancient Greek text has “owing nothing.” It is clear, however, that the servant is not so worthless as to be beyond God’s love.
Also clear is that the master in no way depends upon the servant, but the context is that the servant is kept, not discharged. Indeed, the relationship between the servant and master is so close that the servant assumes to have a place at the master’s table.
For weeks, through Scriptures read at Mass, the Church has been summoning us to discipleship. The message has been no promise of a primrose path ahead. It has not exalted human nature above and beyond what human nature is in fact. Rather, it has been frank, even somberly warning at times.
This is the background from which these readings appear. Taken together, they are instructive, alerting us to dangers, but also consoling us with assurances of hope and of life.
Each sincere follower of Jesus must see herself or himself as like the servant mentioned this weekend in Luke’s Gospel. As sinning so well demonstrates, we are not as capable of finding the right path as we think we are. We need God to show the way.
Habakkuk lets us know that many detours and obstacles lie before us, but God will lead us, if we allow it. Our resolve must be to stand firm and unwavering in our conviction to follow Christ.
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