27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
I have an app on my phone that counts down the days to November 8. 36 days, 21 hours, 40 minutes, 43 seconds, and counting. This is only the 9th presidential election cycle of my life, and as it has with many Americans, I am left wondering what future elections might look like … wondering, dreading, cringing at the thought that it will only get worse. “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord.” Now each of us hearing this reading from the prophet Habakkuk will need to pause for a reality check. None of us sits amid the destruction and violence that many towns and villages in Syria have lived through these last few years. We are nowhere in Europe where the record influx of Middle Eastern refugees has sown bitter frustration and widespread mistrust. We are not a community (and hopefully not ever) shattered by terrorist attacks or senseless gun violence, and the ensuing chaos as families seek answers and justice. And we can’t even complain about the weather in the valley knowing there are places across the country where rivers are flooding, and wildfires are raging, and tornadoes are upending countless lives. Still we can’t turn our backs on the suffering of others around us. It is hardly a Christian response. And our economy still needs strengthening; our civic pride still needs rebuilding; and our young people still need assurance they have a bright future ahead of them.
… Which takes us back to the first presidential debate that took place early this past week. I watched some of it, and went to bed after an hour. I guess I am grateful I didn’t go to bed completely distraught. But the aftermath is more troubling, as ripples from the debate continue to make news. Now I didn’t watch any of the primary debates. I am told I didn’t miss anything important. But even if I did, I was not spared the gory details the next morning when I turned on the news, and for many days and weeks after. I know it’s not just me, because I have heard from many intelligent and respectable people who share my dismay. And we still have 36 days, 21 hours, 38 minutes, 42 seconds of this to endure. I say we set aside whatever strong emotions we have, and make a choice ultimately for the good of our fellow citizens and the rest of the world. And it might help us heal more quickly as a nation if we resolve to calmly put it all behind us and not complain about it ever, and work diligently and prayerfully to make the next presidential election cycle in 4 years a much better reflection of who we are as a nation. Of course, that’s just me. No one ever pays attention to anything I say.
We who are Christians, who profess faith in Jesus Christ are often troubled that we are not as effective as we would like to be among our sisters and brothers in the world who seem increasingly resistant to the Gospel and the values of the Kingdom. What are we doing wrong? What can we do better? Is our way of life so unimpressive and unconvincing? Do our answers to their questions inspire and challenge? Is our vision unattractive? Has the fire of God’s Spirit within us gone dark and cold?
Paul reminds Timothy that the Spirit of God he received through the imposition of his hands is not one “of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” Yet we know we have all received the very same Spirit at baptism. It cannot then be entirely up to professional religious people, deacons, priests, bishops, and the pope to inspire us and set us on fire anew for the Kingdom of God. Rather, by our bearing of our share “of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God,” we should give the world a most powerful and convincing testimony of what faith in God truly means.
But from what I have observed, it seems we have little trouble admitting defeat and surrendering to those forces that inspire unbelievers and those with malicious intent, that our own faith is weak, and that we are completely powerless against the cynical, hateful, destructive, and unchristian spirit and attitude that has pervaded the current election cycle. Many of us who are Christian have not behaved at all like we understand what it really means to be Christian. We have encouraged and fueled divisiveness and mistrust of those who do not share our politics. We have applauded spiteful and unkind language against those who would demean and degrade different groups within our society. We have even expressed approval when people we disagree with are treated with contempt and disrespect. And then we cry out to God to increase our faith? Who are we kidding? It’s like we would see nothing wrong with praying to God for help with final exams, while deliberately wasting time goofing off and neglecting our schoolwork. So we end up flunking out and blaming God for not helping us out when we came to him with our troubles.
“If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.” Mulberry trees are not easy to uproot. Their root systems spread out wide and go impressively deep. So what sort of work would it take to uproot a tree like that? According to Jesus, faith the size of a mustard seed is all it would take. Of course, it’s a figure of speech. We know faith is not something we can measure in size or weight. Faith has no color, smell, taste, or other distinguishing physical features. Besides, a mustard seed is almost negligible. Compared to other seeds, it is most unimpressive. What Jesus might be suggesting is that a little faith in God and God’s power to accomplish great things is sufficient to bring about amazing and wonderful things.
If we have faith in God, we would live completely focused on Jesus’ values and way of life. We do not stand idle and wait for God to do everything. We do our part to bring about the Kingdom of God. Like servants who put on an apron and wait on their master even after a full day of plowing the field or tending sheep, we need to know that our role in creating a just and compassionate society does not ever end. It is who we are all the time everywhere. It is what we do all the time everywhere. So we build a just and compassionate society by being just and compassionate all the time everywhere. We are generous and forgiving and patient and gracious all the time everywhere. We are helpful and honest and prayerful and faithful all the time everywhere. That doesn’t sound like a lot of work, now does it? Like a mustard seed. But we need to be consistent and determined. We are children of God and disciples of Jesus Christ first, but all the time everywhere. It is who we are no matter where we are or who we are with. And our behavior should speak that reality always … no matter who is getting our vote on November 8 which is 36 days, 21 hours, 31 minutes, 17 seconds away.
Rolo B Castillo © 2016