A former classroom teacher whom I know made a career change as a result of her experiences in the classroom. She had enjoyed using classroom management resources published by a private company, and interviewed for a job coaching teachers about how to use the company’s resources. Her interview became the stuff of legend among the other employees of the company.
The employment interview process required the applicant to demonstrate the ability to coach others about how to use the resources. She set up a hypothetical classroom situation in which the students were bored and out-of-control. Then she asked her audience what they would be willing to do to avoid being in the uncomfortable situation depicted in her hypothetical scenario. At that moment, she paused for dramatic effect – allowing the discomfort of the out-of-control classroom sink in for the interviewers. In order to increase the effect of the dramatic pause she looked at them and said, “Wait for it!” before continuing with her presentation.
The pause and her facetious “Wait for it!” earned her the job and the grudging respect of her fellow representatives for the company. Her peers were so impressed by her presentation, and at the same time so jealous of it, that her phrase, “Wait for it!” figured prominently in a company team-building exercise held a few weeks later. Today’s first reading reminded me of what turned out to be my friend’s motto among her peers.
Today’s first reading, taken from the prophet Habakkuk, dates from the time of the Babylonian conquest of the kingdom of Judah. The prophet longed to see God intervene decisively on behalf of God’s People, but God seemed to delay while the Babylonians marched closer to Jerusalem. In response to the prophet’s lament God responds, “Write down the vision; Make it plain upon tablets, so that the one who reads it may run. For the vision is a witness for the appointed time, a testimony to the end; it will not disappoint. If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. See, the rash have no integrity; but the just one who is righteous because of faith shall live.” (Habakkuk 2:2-4)
God reassured the prophet that salvation would come for all the People. The People, for their part, had only to wait faithfully for God’s will to be accomplished. These words are easier to say than to put into practice, especially when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances. It’s not easy to maintain our peace of mind when we beg for help, but God responds, “Wait for it.” At such times, impatience seems like more a realistic response.
There is an inherent unfinished aspect to human life. As long as we are alive, we are changing and (hopefully), growing. The incomplete nature of human existence is a two-edged sword: it can make us very impatient, but it also allows us time to become more faithful imitators of Jesus. The two short parables in today’s Gospel follow immediately after Jesus’ instructions about forgiveness.
Jesus said, “if your brother wrongs you seven times in one day and returns to you seven times saying, ‘I am sorry,’ you should forgive him.” (Luke 17:4) This explains completely the disciples’ request of Jesus, which we heard today, “Lord, increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5) Having heard Jesus’ teaching about forgiving as many times as someone apologizes, the disciples realized they were not equal to the task. They asked for increased faith in order to be able to follow Jesus’ example.
The strength of our faith is not always sufficient for the tasks we face. How ready are we to forgive those who offend us? How willing are we to pray for our enemies and persecutors? How eager are we to pick up our cross each day, and follow in Jesus’ footsteps?
Fortunately, God allows us time to grow into a mature faith. God is willing to wait for us to catch up to where God wants us to be. Lacking that Divine patience, we would have no hope of becoming faithful disciples of Jesus. This is the blessing of incompleteness: God allows us to use the unfinished nature of human existence to our benefit. The time we are allotted in this life has a purpose: it is to be spent in pursuit of God’s will.
But, what about those events in our lives that weigh on us? What about the real tragedies that happen? What about the prayers that seem to go unanswered for much too long? Is there any reason, in these circumstances, for us to wait for the fulfillment of God’s will and the fulfillment of our hopes?
I suggest to you that the time we spend waiting for answers to our prayers, the time we spend waiting for injustice to be redressed and the time we spend hoping for Divine help is itself the experience of having greater faith. Waiting for salvation from God is not an exercise in patience. Rather, it is an opportunity to grow in faith in very concrete ways. Faith is more than believing God exists; it requires actions that give flesh to the abstract. Waiting for the fulfillment of God’s promises is is an opportunity to take a generalized faith, and make it individual and specific.
The tasks that we face daily are no different from the obligations of the servant in the parable who is entitled to no special recognition for performing his duties faithfully. (Luke 17:9) Our lives, with their blessings and burdens, are what we are obliged to do faithfully. In Baptism we were given faith as a possibility; that possibility becomes reality only through our concrete efforts to remain faithful in our daily activities. Therefore, by its nature faith is finite, and it is the appropriate response to life in a finite universe.
What are you willing to do to be included in the fulfillment of God’s promises? Are you are willing to wait for your own growth in virtue? Are you willing to wait for the completion of God’s will for the world? Don’t be surprised that you have to wait for it. Faith doesn’t come pre-fabricated from a heavenly factory; it has to be made out of the raw materials of our daily lives.