FAITH IS STRENGTHENED BY HOPE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Habakkuk 1:12-2:4; Matthew 17:14-20]
In the first reading, we hear the cries of the poor for justice and liberation. In the days of old, as in our days as well, the poor and the vulnerable were often manipulated. They were at the mercy of the rich and the powerful. Those who had power use their position to influence people, to buy over the rich to help them become richer and more powerful, and buy over the poor for their support. Indeed, we see such politics everywhere in the world at every strata of society, whether in the corporate, political or religious world. When we suffer injustice at the hands of others, causing us to suffer much, even to the extent of us losing our job, family and reputation, how can we continue to believe in a God of justice?
Indeed, when we are down and suffering immensely because of unjust and cruel people around us, we begin to lose faith in God. This was the case of the prophet Habakkuk. He was prophesying at a time when the Babylonians were rising in power. He could not understand how God would allow the Babylonians to punish Judah. He found it difficult to reconcile God’s love for His people and at the same time, not helping those who were suffering. Is not this the case for us as well? When we seek God’s help in our illness, financial difficulties, in the predicament we are in, and the answer appears not to be forthcoming, we too will begin to lose hope.
Indeed, like the prophet in that situation of helplessness, we too would also question the justice of God. He said, “Are not you, from ancient times Lord, my God, my Holy One, who never dies? Lord, you have made this people an instrument of justice, set it firm as a rock in order to punish. Your eyes are too pure to rest on wickedness, you cannot look on at tyranny. Why do you look on while men are treacherous, and stay silent while the evil man swallows a better man than he? You treat mankind like fishes in the sea, like creeping, masterless things. A people, these, who catch all on their hook, who draw them with their net, in their dragnet gather them, and so, triumphantly, rejoice.”
So too, the case of the man whose son was possessed by an unclean spirit. In desperation, he turned to the Lord and said, “take pity on my son: he is a lunatic and in a wretched state; he is always falling into the fire or into the water. I took him to your disciples and they were unable to cure him.” The disciples were asked to help, but could not drive the spirit out of the boy. (cf Mk 9:17f)
Hence, the Lord sought to awaken the faith of His disciples, “Faithless and perverse generation! How much longer must I be with you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him here to me.” Thus, “when Jesus rebuked it the devil came out of the boy who was cured from that moment.” Faith is necessary to allow God to take over our lives and be in charge of us. The Lord later explained to the disciples why they were unable to heal the boy. He said, “I tell you solemnly, if your faith were the size of a mustard seed you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’, and it would move; nothing would be impossible for you.”
How can anyone arrive at such faith, even if one’s faith is as tiny as the mustard seed? It is not that we do not want to have faith but we feel inadequate to surrender in faith because of fear, lack of trust or dare not be disappointed. Indeed, many of us hope for God to intervene in our illness, financial woes and difficult relationships with our spouse, boss, in-laws or colleagues, but the situation remains unchanged. Hence, when the Lord said to the father, “’Everything is possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” (Mk 9:23f) This too is our prayer as well. Many of us do believe in God but our faith is at different levels.
How then can we grow our faith? How can we overcome our unbelief? Faith thrives on hope. The stronger the hope, the stronger the faith. Without hope, there can be no faith. We all live by hope. The prophet Isaiah said, “He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isa 40:29-31) The letter to the Hebrews said, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for.” (Heb 11:1f)
For us, Christians, we have not just hope but we have a certain hope in Christ. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are certain of the future ahead of us, and our victory over sin, injustice and death. This hope is given to us in the presence of the Holy Spirit as a foretaste and a pledge of what is to come. “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.” (Rom 5:2-5)
It is this hope in Christ that we are able to persevere even in the face of injustices, suffering and evil. This was how St Peter asked the Christians who were under persecution to do, namely, to praise God for a living hope. “In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Pt 1:3-5, 8f)
That is why we need to affirm that our God is in charge and in control of our history and that of the world. God has a plan which we do not see clearly. He told the prophet to “Write the vision down, inscribe it on tables to be easily read, since this vision is for its own time only: eager for its own fulfilment, it does not deceive; if it comes slowly, wait, for come it will, without fail.” So we must trust and believe that God knows what He is doing. At times, we feel that He is not with us or is not on our side, but He is working slowly but surely to liberate us and to bring justice on earth. Instead of taking things into our own hands, we must allow the plan of God to unfold itself.
So faith requires patience and perseverance. We need to remain calm and wait patiently for the Lord to act. It is our impatience and wanting to take things into our own hands that cause us even more problems. Jesus was never rash in fulfilling the mission of His Father. He knew when to withdraw when the opposition got stronger. He knew when to act when it was time to stand up against His opponents. He was never reactive, unlike the apostles. This is also required of us.
Let us take to heart the reminder of our Lord through the prophet when He remarked, “See, how he flags, he whose soul is not at rights, but the upright man will live by his faithfulness.” When we are not focused and when we take things into our own hands, using unjust and devious means to get what we want, we will always remain fearful, anxious and lacking peace in our soul. However, if we live a just life, and a life of faith in God that He is the just judge who rules over the earth as the psalmist says, our lives will be secure. Indeed, “The Lord sits enthroned for ever. He has set up his throne for judgement; he will judge the world with justice, he will judge the peoples with his truth. For the oppressed let the Lord be a stronghold, a stronghold in times of distress. Those who know your name will trust you.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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