I suspect that most folks like to sit in the same pew each week surrounded with fellow parishioners with whom they are familiar. The liturgy itself has a familiar ritual sameness. Generally we would rather sing the familiar hymns and groan a bit when the musicians announce the learning of a new song.
There is the old saying about how familiarity breeds contempt. There is this contradiction then, we love the familiar, but it becomes boring and unlively. Parishes have had real struggles when there are changes in the setting. Things get moved around and emotions get moved as well. We can get numbed by the rituals being the same as well.
As we prepare these days for celebrating a usual Sunday Liturgy, we might watch for the grace and surprises of the unusual, the different, the uncontrolled. Jesus lived the unpredictable, the adventurous, the real. We are sent by the Eucharist, which can be predictable and usual, to live gracefully the mission of showing up and receiving the invitations associated with being people of the Living Bread. Boredom is the result of fear.
We hear from a little-known prophet in today's First Reading. Habakkuk has a valid complaint with which we have similar feelings. I personally have drifted away from watching the late-evening local news. It is not a peaceful way for me to prepare for the night's rest. Interestingly enough, the news programs all seem to end with a "feel-good" story to help ease the pain. Also interesting is the amount of physical-pain reliever commercials as well as tension resolvers sprinkled throughout the news programs. Habakkuk has had his fill of local and national news of violence and disaster.
We do wonder why the good and loving God doesn't do something about the messes we and others get into. If God is Savior maybe God would have more adherents if God would show up and show off some of that saving love now and then.
God replies by asking the prophet to write down something of a vision which will take time to come to pass. The rash person will not have peace enough to hope. The person of faith will wait for the vision to become history. Faith is a way of seeing. Seeing is a way of being or seeming to be, in control.
In the previous chapter from which our Gospel is taken for today, there is a quite dramatic statement by Jesus. Speaking of the “kingdom of heaven” Jesus tells the Pharisees that the kingdom is entered violently. We get a picture of just what “violently” means. The apostles ask for an increase in faith. The likelihood is that they are really asking for insights, or a clearer understanding of their lives as followers of Jesus. We would appreciate a heavy import of that as well. Here is the beginning of entering the kingdom violently. The violence is done in our mind and where our fears reside.
Jesus is assuming that their faith is so fragile compared to what is going to be asked of their faith later, as His followers. Their faith now cannot move a tree from the ground into the sea. Following Jesus will ask them to be uprooted themselves from the security of the earth and trust in the insecurity of walking on the waters of doubt, fear, and persecution.
The little story which concludes today’s Gospel seems harsh. The important aspects to face are entitlement, achievement, and partnership. Entering the kingdom violently, remember is the overshadowing theme. The master has servants who have been out doing their works of field and flock. They come in and the master does not do the entitlement achievement, partnership thing, but, because he is master and they are servants, the master seemingly, violently, tells them that dinner-time is soon and he is ready for what he deserves as master. We do not hear the reactions of the hungry and tired servants.
Jesus then asks the apostles, who have asked for more faith, whether they can remember who they are as servants who have been given quite demanding commands. They are to have the faith of dutiful servants and not to be expecting congratulations and rewards for doing what is appropriate to servants of the Master. These teachings of the kingdom are a violence to our sense of justice and equality. We would like to think that God owes us something, because we are doing so many large and little good things totally for God’s glory. Violently does our ego react!
This could be kind of a picture of heaven then. We come in from doing our field and flock works and we can expect that God is so grateful that we are invited, because of our works, to get good seats at the heavenly banquet. We do not deserve heaven. Jesus took away the necessity of our achieving heaven by our works. The work of Jesus, who took upon Him the role of slave and servant, announces more clearly than ever that we too are “unprofitable servants” who are not entitled, but titled, honored and made worthy by the Master’s act of being Servant.
What is violent to our egos is that we are invited to remember who we are, served-servants. All that we do are gestures of loving gratitude. We don’t earn, accomplish, or get heaven except as the gift of a loving and saving Servant Himself.
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