Last year at this time I was preparing to travel to Bangladesh – to connect with our local, indigenous pastors and churches, and to provide some teaching and training. Since that trip to Bangladesh, the LORD has created a deep passion and love for her people in my heart. So when I read about the world’s largest legal brothel in Bangladesh, housing 1000 children who were caught in, or being groomed for, sex-trafficking, my heart broke. “Why God? Why such pain and heartache?” My heart cries were not altogether different from Habakkuk’s in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds” (Hab 1:2-3).
Indeed, any number of contemporary realities of brokenness, exploitation, and injustice produce these cries. It seems we find ourselves in the midst of unbridled evil, destruction, violence, and strife. We might be left asking, “Where is God?” or at least, “How long, O Lord?” But Habakkuk reminds us that while this season is dark, a brighter day is coming. A day when the victory of goodness, righteousness, justice, and love will be revealed. God promises he will vindicate, redeem and renew at the appointed time (Hab 2:3). And God’s challenge to us in the meantime is to linger, wait and trust the appointed time will indeed come. His invitation to his children who find themselves enduring the brokenness and pain is to remember, “the righteous person will live by his faithfulness” (Hab 2:4).
While God’s invitation to righteousness and faithfulness may appear to be a challenge too great to undertake, the remaining readings of this week’s lectionary provide helpful insights. They outline four simple, yet profound, responses to the presence and prevalence of evil, injustice and destruction. We first must turn our hearts toward worship. As we worship, we declare the LORD’s greatness and give thanks. We honor him as our Creator, God, and the Good Shepherd. Despite being surrounded by pain, we hear the LORD’s voice to keep our hearts from deceit, hardening and evil (Ps 95). In addition to worship, we also need to protect the love, faith and teaching we have received. Paul reminds Timothy – and us – of the eternal value deposited to us, and the willingness of the Spirit to help guard it (2 Tim 1:13-14). Guarding and protecting require active participation and involvement from us. Love, faith and teachings fade over time without purposeful intentionality.
As we worship communally and protect internally, we are also called to respond externally. The suffering and pain we see cannot be ignored or disregarded. Instead we are called to stand with the marginalized and hurting. Paul declares we shall “join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God” (2 Tim 1:8). Our church communities cannot be safe houses protecting us from the world’s brokenness, but rather, places we worship, are empowered to guard against loss, and then sent out to stand alongside and suffer. Our call is to suffer alongside those who suffer. Finally, none of these things will be accomplished with a wavering and waning faith we muster up ourselves. Instead, like the apostles, we cry out to God, “Increase our faith!” (Lk 17:5). And while our small, microscopic faith may seem insignificant, Jesus reminds each of us, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you” (Lk 17:6). Even in the midst of despair, even with small faith, God can – and will – do great things!
For Reflection and Discussion:  Of the four responses to evil and destruction – worship, protection, suffering and asking for more faith – which is most challenging? Why?  What does it look like to “join with me in suffering for the gospel”?  What mulberry tree uprootings have you experienced with your mustard-seed-faith?
PLEASE NOTE: The weekly Parashah commentaries represent the research and creative thought of their authors, and are meant to stimulate deeper thinking about the meaning of the Scriptures. While they draw upon the study methods and sources employed by the ISPS-Ratisbonne Bat Kol-Christian Center for Jewish Studies, the views and conclusions expressed in these commentaries are solely those of their authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of ISPS-Ratisbonne Bat Kol-Christian Center for Jewish Studies. The commentaries, along with all materials published on the ISPS-Ratisbonne Bat Kol-Christian Center for Jewish Studies website, are copyrighted by the writers, and are made available for personal and group study, and local church purposes. Permission needed for other purposes. Questions, comments and feedback are always welcome.