27th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings:
Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4
Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9
2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14
Luke 17:5-10

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God's divine plan for humanity is revealed in the two Testaments, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of this Sunday's Readings: Increase Our Faith!
Today's readings deal with the topic of faith. Faith is a gift of God which must increase as we mature as Christians on our journey to salvation. It is easier to have faith when life is simple and without turmoil, but it is harder to have faith when we or the ones we love suffer. It is when we experience suffering, and then do not receive a discernible answer to our prayers, that we feel God is far from us and our faith falters. In those times, we must have the courage to pray that God will increase our faith. Either your faith in God grows as you face the struggles of life, or it withers and dies. It is God's promise that in times of difficulty He will not abandon us and our persistence in faith is not in vain. We will either receive temporal salvation from our difficulty or, if it is not God's will that we are released from our temporal suffering, it is His promise that He will credit our suffering in faih toward our eternal salvation (Mt 16:24-25).

Our First Reading, from the Book of the Prophet Habakkuk, is unique in that it is one of the few times in Scripture that a prophet questions the ways of God and calls Him to account for His governance of the world. The prophet begins with a complaint against the evils that are taking place, where the powerful oppress the poor and engage in all forms of depravity and violence. He asks how long God intends to let these abuses continue. God answers the prophet, asking him for patience because God's justice is coming and will be fulfilled at the right time according to God's divine plan.

The Responsorial Psalm invites us to praise the Lord as both King of the universe and our personal Lord and God. First, we are encouraged to bow down in liturgical worship before "our God," acknowledging Him as our divine Shepherd and ourselves as the sheep of His flock. Then the message of the psalm changes to that of the Lord speaking to His people "today"—it is a warning that we should take literally. It is not only meant for the covenant people of the past, but it is a warning for God's covenant people who live "today." God wants our promise to be truly sincere in our worship and praise and to persevere in the obedience of faith.

In the Second Reading, St. Paul writes to St. Timothy, encouraging him in his ministry and assuring Timothy that he has resources beyond his own strength because the Holy Spirit is the first guardian of the sacred Tradition Jesus passed on to the Church that dwells in the teaching ministry of both Timothy and Paul. It is the same oral teaching Tradition Jesus passed on to His Apostles and disciples which they in turn have faithfully passed on to Timothy's generation, and which he has the same responsibility to pass to future generations. The Tradition of Jesus' teaching that Paul and Timothy received is the same Tradition our present generation has received, and it is now our responsibility to pass on the same closely guarded Tradition, received from Jesus, to future generations in the Church.

The Gospel Reading is Jesus' Parable of the Unprofitable Servants. Jesus is comparing human service to Christian discipleship, and tells a parable to make His point about service in His Kingdom of the Church. Jesus' warnings can apply to our Christian service today. A Christian who only carries out the minimum requirements of service to the Kingdom can regard himself as an "unprofitable servant." The conduct of a Christian in fulfilling what he sees as his ritual obligations does not guarantee his salvation—the reward of God's grace is a gift and cannot be earned or purchased. Our good works are evidence of our faith and make us open to receiving God's gift of grace and the eternal blessing of salvation. Finally, there is no room for human boasting as far as our service to Christ and His Church is concerned. If we take the attitude that our salvation is secure because we have done "our part," our self-righteous attitude, like the attitude of the Pharisees of Jesus' time, will contribute to our downfall. It is the humble and faithfully obedient servant that God exalts.

The First Reading Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4 ~ The Faith of the Just
2 How long, O LORD? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not intervene. 3 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. [...] 2:2 Then the LORD answered me and said: Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. 3 For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. 4 The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.

The visions of the prophet Habakkuk date from 605-597 BC. These are the years between the Battle of Carchemish on the Euphrates River in northern Syria when Babylonian general Nebuchadnezzar defeated the Egyptians and took control of the region in 605 BC, and the Babylonian invasion of Judah in 597 BC (Jer 42:6). During these years, the situation in the Kingdom of Judah was desperate, with the practice of idol worship and political intrigue widespread in the kingdom.

Chapters 1-2 are identified as an "oracle" or "pronouncement" (Heb. massa) which the prophet received in a vision (Hab 1:1) and a dialogue between the prophet and the Lord. The Book of Habakkuk is unique in that it is one of the few times in Scripture that the prophet questions the ways of God and calls Him to account for his government of the world. Verses 1-2 are the prophet's complaint against the evils in Judah that the Lord has not addressed. "How long," the prophet asks, will God continue to let these abuses go on? The wording is similar to language used by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos to condemn the social abuses of their day. God answers the prophet in verses 5-11, saying that He is preparing an avenging instrument, Babylon/Chaldea (Hab 1:6), which He will use to punish the sinful people of Judah.

2 Then the LORD answered me and said: Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. 3 For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. 4 The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.
The prophet's second dialogue with the Lord concerning Judah's many sins and covenant violations begins in 1:12-2:1. God gives His answer in Habakkuk 2:2-20. In 2:4 God tells the prophet to draw up a covenant lawsuit against the people of Judah in which God pronounces five "woe" judgments against the nation (2:6-20). God will call down judgment on the wicked, but He promises to spare the righteous that have faith in Him; their faith will be their salvation (2:4). The faith which enables the just man and woman to survive the coming destruction is both a confident belief in God's divine justice and the patience in living through its fulfillment.

Verse 4 stats that the righteous will live by faith (Hab 2:4); this is affirmed in New Testament teachings. St. Paul quotes these same words in Romans 1:17; Galatians 3:11; and Hebrews 10:38. The Letter to the Hebrews quotes this verse from the Greek Septuagint translation to exhort Christians to persevere in the faith they have received; it is the faith in which we will be justified and receive supernatural life in Christ Jesus: "But my just one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him." We are not among those who draw back and perish, but among those who have faith and will possess life (Heb 10:38-39). See CCC 153-55 and 1814-16.

Responsorial Psalm 95:1-2, 6-9 ~ Be Receptive to the Lord Who Guides His People
Response: "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts."

1 Come, let us sing joyfully to the LORD; let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation. 2 Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us joyfully sing psalms to him.
Response:
6 Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the LORD who made us. 7 For he is our God, and we are the people he shepherds, the flock he guides.
Response:
7b Oh, that today you would hear his voice: 8 "Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, 9 where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works."
Response:

The proclamation of the divine kingship of God in Psalm 93, and the acknowledgement of the Lord as "our God" in Psalm 94:23, leads in Psalm 95 to an invitation to praise the Lord as both King of the universe (95:3) and our personal Lord and God (95:6-7). The psalmist begins with an invitation to praise the Lord in verses 1-2. It is an invitation that is extended in verse 6 to bow down in liturgical worship before "our God," acknowledging Him as our divine Shepherd and ourselves as the sheep of His flock. It is an image used in the Psalms (see Ps 23) and by the prophets to define God as the Master of the flock and the people as His obedient domesticated animals (see the chart "The Symbolic Images of the Old Testament Prophets").

7b Oh, that today you would hear his voice: 8 "Harden not your hearts as at Meribah, as in the day of Massah in the desert, 9 where your fathers tempted me; they tested me though they had seen my works."
Suddenly the voice of the psalm changes to that of the Lord speaking to His people "today." We should take the warning to listen to God's voice "today" literally. It is not only meant for the covenant people of the past, but it is a warning for God's covenant people of every generation. God wants our promise to be truly sincere in our worship and praise. He warns us to avoid being like the rebellious Israelites on their wilderness journey to Mt. Sinai and later on their journey to the Promised Land when they continually tested God to prove His power and His loyalty. Instead of having faith in God to guide them and care for them, in Exodus 17:1-7 the Israelites accused God of letting them suffer and tested God to see if He was with them. Moses gave the place the names Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled there and tested the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD in our midst or not?" From then on the names Massah and Meribah came to symbolize rebellion by failing to have faith and trust in God (see Num 20:24; Dt 6:16; 9:22; 33:8). But in the event at Massah-Meribah God also tested Israel: At the waters of Meribah I tested you and said: 'Listen, my people, I give you warning! If only you will obey me, Israel! (Ps 81:7).

What is the message for us "today"? The passage is a warning to avoid accusing God of not acting in our best interest. We must not make demands that test God's goodness and fidelity in the attempt to force Him to act as if His previous works and deeds were not proof enough of His love for us. In the Letter to the Hebrews, there is a commentary on Psalm 95:7b-11 that is presented as spoken by the Holy Spirit (Heb 3:7-19). After quoting the psalms, the inspired writer warns us: Take care, brothers, that none of you may have an evil and unfaithful heart, so as to forsake the living God. Encourage yourselves daily while it is still "today," so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin. We have become partners of Christ if only we hold the beginning of the reality firm until the end, for it is said: "Oh, that today you would hear his voice: 'Harden not your hearts as at the rebellion.'"

The Second Reading 2 Timothy 1:6-8, 13-14 ~ Faith is a Gift of the Holy Spirit
6 [For this reason] I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. 7 For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. 8 So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. [...]13 Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.

This is St. Paul's second letter written from Rome to St. Timothy who is the pastor of the church at Ephesus. Paul is concerned that discouragement over the many difficulties Timothy faces in his office as leader of the faith community may become a challenge to his faith. This is why Paul begins this passage with the words: "For this reason" (not in our lectionary passage). It is "for this reason" that Paul calls upon Timothy to remember when he laid his hands upon Timothy, ordaining him as God's ministerial priest, that he was supernaturally filled and empowered by the Holy Spirit to fulfill his mission (the Holy Spirit is named in 2 Tim 1:14). The image Paul presents is that of coals covered with ashes and that need to be stirred, revived, and fanned into a flame. St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, writes concerning this passage: It takes much zeal to stir up the gift of God .... It is in our power to kindle or extinguish this grace .... For by sloth and carelessness it is quenched, and by watchfulness and diligence it is kept alive" (Homilies on 2 Timothy, 1).

8 For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. 8 So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.
Paul assures Timothy that fear and timidity have no place in the one endowed with the Holy Spirit. Then Paul lists three attributed the Holy Spirit imparts: the Holy Spirit is a spirit "of power and love and self-control."

These gifts of the Spirit will give Timothy the strength to endure the hardships of his office and to be a powerful preacher the Gospel.

13 Take as your norm the sound words that you heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.
Paul speaks of the oral teaching ("words that you heard from me") he has given Timothy as a sacred trust. Timothy must follow the "norm" or pattern set by Paul's teaching as his own. The emphasis is on guarding and holding on tightly to the oral teaching Tradition received from Jesus that He passed on to His Apostles and disciples which they in turn have faithfully passed on the Timothy's generation. Timothy has the same responsibility to pass on the Tradition of Christ's teaching to future generations. Notice that Paul calls this trust "rich" (kalos = beautiful or precious). Paul's choice of words gives the nuance of endless wealth that is available in the sacred Tradition as well as something that can be the source of endless contemplation.

Finally, Paul assures Timothy that he has resources beyond his own strength and the endurance he needs for guarding this trust. The Holy Spirit is the first guardian of their sacred Tradition and dwells in both Timothy and Paul (see Jesus' teaching in Jn 16:12-15). In Hebrews, the inspired writer (most likely St. Paul) writes: Therefore, do not throw away your confidence; it will have great recompense. You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what he has promised (Heb 10:35-36).

This passage in Paul's letter to Timothy provides a foundation for the Catholic Church's understanding of our sacred oral Tradition received from Jesus and written down in the New Testament. The Vatican II document Dei Verbum expressed it this way: This Tradition, which comes from the Apostles, develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth (Dei Verbum, 8). It is important to remember that the oral teaching preceded the written word of Scripture. See St. Paul's teaching on the sacred oral Tradition they have received from Jesus and the responsibility to pass on in 1 Corinthians 11:2; 15:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 2 Timothy 2:2; also see CCC 75-79, 81, 84, 97, 126.

The Gospel Reading Luke 17:5-10 ~ The Power of Faith and the Parable of the Unprofitable Servants
5 And the Apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." 6 The Lord replied, "If you have 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.' 7 "Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here immediately and take your place at table?' 8 Would he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished'? 9 Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obligated to do.'"

5 And the Apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." This is the first mention of the Apostles as a separate group from within the community of disciples since Luke 9:10 when they returned from their first missionary journey (Jesus did mention them in His teaching in 11:49). Their request for Jesus to increase their faith shows that they have been reflecting upon Jesus' teachings on discipleship in Luke 14:25-35, 16:8b-18 and 17:1-4. To fulfill Jesus' teachings on the demands of true discipleship, the Apostles realize that their ability to live in compliance to Jesus' teaching depends on their faith. However, they understand that they will need more than their frail human faith to be obedient to Jesus' commands, and so they ask Him to increase their faith.

6 The Lord replied, "If you have 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."
For the second time Jesus uses the image of the growth of a small seed (see Lk 13:19), but this time, He uses an example that defies natural law. His answer to them is that genuine Christian faith is a process in which growing faith can lead to limitless power. A person who experiences this kind of enriched faith can effect changes that are not according to the laws that govern the temporal world. Next, to complete His point, Jesus tells His Apostles a parable about how being a vigilant and faithful disciple is linked to the extent of one's service to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ.

Luke 17:7-10 ~ The Parable of the Unprofitable Servants
7 "Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here immediately and take your place at table?' 8 Would he not rather say to him, 'Prepare something for me to eat. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You may eat and drink when I am finished'? 9 Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obligated to do.'"
This is the last set of sayings/teachings in this series addressing the inadequacy of service versus the expectation of reward. Once again, Luke uses a familiar household analogy of master and servant/slave (see 12:35-40, 42-48; 13:25-27; 14:16-24; 16:1-13). Servants/slaves always ate after the master of the house had finished his meal. In verse 9, the point is not good manners but social convention and acceptable behavior for a servant in the presence of his master. The rhetorical question Jesus asks in verse 9 presupposes a "no" answer.

In this parable, Jesus compares human service to Christian discipleship. In serving an earthly master, a servant does not deserve or expect a greater reward for doing what is expected of him. Such an attitude is like the Pharisee in Luke 14:15 who believed the Pharisee host of the meal and the other invited Pharisees and scribes deserved to eat at God's banquet table in the heavenly kingdom simply because they were descendants of Abraham and members of the covenant. And yet, as Jesus has shown them repeatedly in His teachings, they had failed in their service to God in not fulfilling even the minimum that was expected. They failed in the understanding and teaching of the Law (Lk 14:3-6), in mercy, compassion, and justice to the poor (Lk 11:39-52), and in their love of money over love of God (16:13-15; also see St. John the Baptist's condemnation of the Jews for this attitude in Lk 3:7-9).

Symbolic images in the Parable of the Unprofitable Servants (Lk 17:7-10)
The master God
The servants who work on the master's land Christians within the Kingdom of the Church
The unprofitable servants Christians who only do the minimum service that God requires of a Christian
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013

Jesus' point in this teaching is summed up in verse 10 and it applies to our Christian service in every generation.

  1. A Christian who only carries out the minimum requirements of service to the Kingdom can regard himself as an "unprofitable servant."
  2. The conduct of a Christian in fulfilling what he sees as his covenant obligations does not guarantee his salvation. The reward of God's grace is a gift that is not purchased through works. Our good works are evidence of our faith and make us open to receiving God's gift of grace.
  3. There is no room for human boasting as far as our service to the Master is concerned. If we take the attitude that our salvation is secure because we have done "our part," our self-righteous attitude will be our downfall.

Catechism References:
Habakkuk 2:4 (CCC 153-55, 1814-16)
Psalm 95:1-6 (CCC 2628); 95:7 (CCC 1165); 95:7-8 (CCC 2659)
2 Timothy 1:6 (CCC 1577, 1590); 1:8 (CCC 2471, 2506)
Luke 17:5 (CCC 162)

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2013 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.