Ironically, a question arising from Sunday's Gospel (Luke 17:5-10) not only is answered in the first two readings (Habakkuk 1:2-3; 2:2-4 and II Timothy 1:6-8,13-14), but also is addressed in the Gospel's own first verses.

Jesus praises the servant who does what the master commands, no matter the extenuating circumstances. "When you have done all you are commanded," He states, "say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'"

The question is: "What exactly are these servants expected to do?"

Mighty faith

From the first part of the reading, their "to-do" list goes deeper than carrying out some specific rule or regulation.

The Apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith." 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 Jesus, faith isn't a commodity to which one can add ounces or inches. Faith doesn't require an increase of volume as much as it demands to be put to use.

Those who operate from just a minuscule amount of faith can "move trees" if they actually utilize that faith. That statement conveys the same belief Margaret Mead referred to in her most famous quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Christian faith revolves around carrying on the dream Jesus originally passed on to His followers. That's the meaning of "sharing in the faith of Jesus." We're obligated to keep alive His dream: to bring into existence a just, inclusive world.

That also seems to be what the author of the second reading is speaking of when he encourages his readers to "guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us."

The author encourages his readers "to stir into flame the gift of God that you have." He fears "cowardice" will push out the "power of love and self-control," which are necessary to maintain such a radical dream.

He deliberately reminds us that any attempt to implement that dream will result in hardship: "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."

Dreams come true

About five centuries before Jesus, the prophet Habakkuk tried to keep the dream alive that Yahweh, centuries before, had instilled in the Chosen People. They dreamed of living freely in their own land, in control of their own destiny.

Though the Israelites had believed that dream would be fulfilled after their great nemesis, Assyria, was defeated, Babylon 's rapid rise created yet one more period of fear and instability. Their dream was close, yet so far.

That's why Yahweh commands the prophet, "Write down the vision. It 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."

In other words, "Hang in there! Dreams take a long time to come true."

There's one difference between Habakkuk's and Jesus' followers. Unlike the prophet's audience, we must accept some responsibility for our faith-dream's fulfillment. Only we, with the Holy Spirit's help, can cause it to take flesh and move our world to the place God wants it to be.

(10/04/07)