27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
This weekend’s first reading is from the Book of Habakkuk, by comparison among the prophets 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 (Hab 1:1, 3:1). However, this hardly stills all other questions. Who was Habukkak?
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 7th 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, and desperation and confusion easily led them away from strict obedience to God.
Like the other prophets, Habakkuk appealed to his contemporaries to call to God for protection in the uncertain international situation. The prophet insists, however, that the “just” will survive.
Paul’s second Epistle to Timothy gives us the second reading. In this letter, the Apostle Paul reminds 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.
Furthermore, Timothy is instructed not to preach his own mind, but instead to preach the Gospel of Christ.
St. Luke’s Gospel is the source of the third reading. This Gospel was read during the liturgies of recently preceding weekends. Therefore, what has already 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. Most critically, God, in Jesus, always forgives those sinners who earnestly repent.
Into this scene comes this weekend’s reading. As have been the other recent Gospel readings, this passage is a parable.
Scholars cannot agree on the term used to describe the servant. Is he “worthless,” or “useless,” or “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 relies upon the servant. Still, the context is that the servant is kept, not discharged. Indeed, the relationship between the servant and master is such 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. It has been no call to drift along the primrose path. 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. They also console us with assurances of hope and of life.
Each sincere follower of Jesus must see herself or himself as the servant mentioned this weekend in Luke’s Gospel. As sinning so well demonstrates, we are not as successful in finding heaven as we might think we are. We need God to show the way.
Habakkuk lets us know that there are many detours and obstacles lying before us. However, God will help us, if we allow it. We allow this help to come by being firm in our resolve to follow Christ.
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