Scripture in Depth
Reading I: Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
These verses give the gist of the three parts of Habakkuk. First the prophet cries out against the injustices that he and his people are suffering at the hand of foreign conquerors. How long will YHWH let this go on and not intervene?
Then comes the answer: YHWH will intervene, but in his own good time. It may seem slow, but come it will. Meanwhile, the attitude required of YHWH’s servants is what the prophet calls “faith”: “the righteous shall live by his faith.”
The meaning of the word translated as faith” here (‘emunah) is steadfast loyalty, holding on in obedience to YHWH’s law, even when it apparently pays no dividends. This word becomes very important both for the Qumran covenant and for the New Testament.
In the Qumran commentary on Habakkuk we read: “This [that is, our saying] refers to all in Jewry who carry out the law [that is, to the Qumraners]. On account of their labor and their faith in him who expounded the law aright [that is, the sect’s founder, the Teacher of Righteousness] God will deliver them from the house of judgment.”
Here faith has already acquired its New Testament sense of personal trust. Compare Rom 1:17 and Gal 3:11, which develop the notion of personal trust adumbrated at Qumran to mean trust in the justifying act of God in Christ toward the ungodly.
Hab 2:4 thus becomes the key text for Paul’s doctrine of justification—a considerable development from the original meaning in Habakkuk. Heb 10:38 reverts closer to the original sense. For this author, faith recovers its meaning of holding on in the midst of adversity.
Responsorial Psalm: 95:1-2, 6-7, 8-9
The Venite consists of two parts—the first a call to worship, the second a warning against neglect of the word of God. The first part is very popular among Anglicans as the invitatory canticle of Morning Prayer, but in most recent revisions the stern warnings of the second part have frequently been omitted.
Yet it was this second part that the author of Hebrews (Heb 3:7-4:13) took up and expounded as especially relevant to his church. The situation of the people of this church was that they were growing stale instead of advancing in the Christian life, just as Israel grew tired in the wilderness
Reading II: 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
Although belonging to the Pauline corpus, the Pastoral Epistles are widely regarded as deutero-Pauline, written within the Pauline school but reflecting the conditions of the generation after the Apostle himself and seeking to preserve his teaching in the new situation.
Two features of this passage may reflect the subapostolic situation:
(1) the channeling of the ministerial charismata through the laying on of hands instead of by direct inspiration, as in 1 Corinthians (“the gift that is within you through the laying on of my hands”);
(2) the consolidation of the apostolic message into a “pattern of sound words.”
Ernst Käsemann has characterized these developments as “early catholicism,” which for him is a loaded term implying degeneration and corruption.
But they can be recognized as legitimate and necessary adaptations in the changed situation, following the decease of the apostles and their consequent inability to exercise the kind of personal control over the charismata that Paul did in 1 Corinthians.
For “Timothy”—and therefore all successors to the ministry of the apostles—must not merely preserve the tradition but give living testimony to it, that is, unpackage it and make it relevant to the contemporary world. Such testimony, the text warns, will involve a “share of suffering for the Gospel.”
Newman, in his Anglican days, once startled the comfortable bishops of the established Church by saying, “We could not wish them a more blessed termination of their course than the spoiling of their goods and martyrdom” (Tract 1, 1833). Very unrealistic in the situation, no doubt, but soundly based on our text.
Gospel: Luke 17:5-10
The request “Increase our faith” comes immediately after a warning to beware of temptations to faith (skandala).
The parable, which forms the second half of our gospel reading, is connected with the saying about faith, because it warns the disciples against supposing that faith, and the obedient service of the Lord in which faith is expressed, establishes a claim for reward.
“When you have done all that is commanded you, say ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
Reginald H. Fuller
**From Saint Louis University