Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2: 2-4; Luke 17: 5-10
Dorothy Law Nolte wrote a poem entitled Children Learn What They Live. Some may have heard of it before, but if not, the first half goes like this, “If a child lives with criticism, he learns to condemn. If a child lives with hostility, he learns to fight. If a child lives with fear, he learns to be apprehensive. If a child lives with pity, he learns to feel sorry for himself. If I child lives with ridicule, he learns to be shy. If a child lives with jealousy, he learns what envy is. If a child lives with shame, he learns to feel guilty.” I thought of that this week when I saw the first reading from Habakkuk speak of vision, but also in light of what has unfolded in our federal government this week and watching how they respond to one another in this period of shutdown. We all can only live what we have learned in our lives, especially as children. If we have lived with negativity, judgment, and all the rest that the author speaks of, it is no wonder that we respond in this way. So often, though, we just figure, well, there’s nothing we can do. No, there probably isn’t much we can do to “fix” this system, but we can change the way we respond in these circumstances. If we are responding in the same way as we have seen many of these politicians, digging in the trenches, we really have to ask ourselves just how much true faith is a part of our lives.
Ironically, Habakkuk sees and experiences the same in those governing in his time. He continues to plead with God about the utter destruction and violent behavior that he witnesses, so often with the poorest of the poor being abused and taken advantage of and Habakkuk can’t stand watching it all unfold anymore. He keeps pleading with God that this perpetual cycle of negativity and judgment continues and it seems as if prayers are not being heard or answered. Finally, in the reading we hear today, God responds. After witnessing such devastation, God tells Habakkuk, remember the vision of what could be. Remember the vision of what should be and continue to strive for a greater way, a more perfect way, a way, as Saint Paul says, the power that comes from love; all other powers are mere worldly desires. To be a people of faith, we are challenged to respond in the same way. I know, I’ve wanted to throw something at the television this week, listening to people throw temper tantrums, like little children, and I had to step back and look at it from a “third eye” and struggle with how we respond in faith and try to stop that cycle of violence and negativity that is so much a part of our culture and the world we live in and very much rooted in the political system. People of faith must respond differently.
It was a challenge for the disciples as well, who, today, simply ask for an increase in faith. We’ve heard the challenging parables the past two months here and at times we didn’t want to hear the message because it comes up against the way we live our lives as well. Just prior to this Jesus tells them that they must forgive, forgive, and forgive again, while recognizing the temptations that will continue to come there way and will try to sway them away from the great vision. As these weeks go on and we approach the Cross, it is imperative to them to seek the greater vision, the better way of life, and don’t fall into the trap of perpetuating violence in the world, which they will witness first hand with Jesus. Jesus tells them the faith is freely given; it’s already there!! You can do the impossible, even change ourselves, if we have just a mustard seed size of faith within! It’s already there! We may not change what is out there, but we can change the way we live and respond in life, in our family, in our community, and in this parish. With a little faith, we can stop the cycle of negativity, judgment, and ridicule that plagues our lives. As we gradually change in here, that change begins to seep out into the world around us.
Dorothy Nolte continues on the second half of the poem to paint that greater vision. She writes, “If a child lives with encouragement, he learns to be confident. If a child lives with tolerance, he learns to be patient. If a child lives with praise, he learns to be appreciative. If a child lives with acceptance, he learns to love. If a child lives with approval, he learns to like himself. If a child lives with recognition, he learns that it is good to have a goal. If a child lives with sharing, he learns about generosity. If a child lives with honest and fairness, he learns what truth and justice are. If a child lives with security, he learns to have faith in himself and in those around him. If a child lives with friendliness, he learns that the world is a nice place in which to live. If YOU live with serenity, your child will live with peace of mind. With what is your child living?”
If we simply buy into that cycle of negativity, judgment, and ridicule, we don’t have to ask in the years to come why the next generations are doing the same and continuing the cycle; they have seen us do it all too often. As people of faith, we are called to seek out the greater vision as Habakkuk is reminded today, despite witnessing so much violence and hate. We pray that we may have the courage to be aware of how we are responding in these situations in life, and ask ourselves, is it really what we want of the next generation, because they are watching. We pray that we may respond in the ways that leads to that more perfect vision with love, forgiveness, prayer, and mercy. If we are grounded in faith, the choice we make should be simple; seek out the greater good for all.