Text: Luke 17:1-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14; Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4
Proper 22, Year C
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Problem of Injustice
We have a saying, “justice is blind.” This expression means that justice is impartial and objective. You might be reminded of the statues of Lady Justice, wearing a blindfold so as not to treat friends differently from strangers, or rich people better than the poor ones. English essayist and poet Joseph Addison wrote, “Justice discards party, friendship, and kindred, and is therefore represented as blind.” It is true that justice is blind, but it is not deaf or mute. Justice hears the cries of the helpless, the victims, the oppressed and marginalised.
But when we talk about justice and how supposedly impartial and objective it is supposed to be, we come face to face with the harsh reality of this world. We live in a world which cries out with Habakkuk, “How long, Lord, will you be deaf to my plea?” When we encounter wrongdoing, violence, strife, and discord erupting, justice being perverted or even denied to many, the poor and marginalised ignored and forgotten, we can ask along with the prophet, why God does not come to the rescue and why he lets us look upon such wickedness.
This cry for justice comes because it’s in our bones. We all were born with a deep sense of justice and fairness. Just go to any school or playground where children are old enough to talk. Pretty soon one child will say to another, or maybe the teacher: “That’s not fair!” We realise that there is injustice and we attempt to fix it. We sign a petition. We attend a protest. We vote differently. We talk about these issues with family and friends. We send money to organisations that are trying to make a difference. And perhaps for a time things may change for the better. Maybe that wrong was put right. And yet, we have the sense that true, lasting justice slips through our fingers. Sometimes it works, oftentimes it doesn’t. Our best solutions are temporary fixes.
It’s in the face of such persistent injustice that the prophet Habakkuk says that those who are just live by their faith. But, what can faith do against wickedness, oppression, and injustice? If Habakkuk says that even though we see great injustice, we must live by faith, what exactly does he mean?
What Faith Is and Is Not
The first thing to note is what faith is not. Faith is not something that we do which puts God in our debt. He made us. He redeemed us. He brought us to faith. The Creator God has the right to tell us what we are to do. His commandments cover every thought and word and act of every minute, every hour, and every day of our entire lives. Faith cannot put God in our debt because we owe him our faith as it is. When you put your faith in God, God does not owe you anything. It isn’t your part of a two-part bargain. Even if we were to do everything that God expects of us, and have complete faith in him, we could never say, “Now you owe me something.” He would answer, “You have only done what I told you to do. This is why I made you. I owe you nothing.”
The disciples in the Gospel lesson, after hearing what Jesus is teaching, ask for him to increase their faith. Faith is not something they can work up in themselves. God has to give it. That’s exactly what Paul says in our Epistle. God gives us new life, resurrection life. This new life, though, isn’t something all humans possess automatically. Like faith, it is a gift of God’s sheer grace and power; and it is rooted in something that happens to people during this present life. Through the preaching of the Gospel, God does incredible, impossible things. When the gospel is preached, when Jesus is proclaimed, people are given new life, and summoned to trust in God rather than anyone or anything else. Faith is created by the Gospel, and that hints at what it is. Faith is trust in a powerful God who can do incredible, impossible things. In our Gospel reading Jesus is not giving a command about how to transplant a tree by wishful thinking. He is emphasising how much even a little faith can accomplish. But it really isn’t about the faith. So he says, “Don’t worry about the size of your faith. It’s not great faith you need; it is faith in a great God.” God does impossible things, and faith is trust that our Great God is doing impossible things.
The God who does Impossible Things
This is a fundamental and essential Christian belief. In the face of the relentless injustice we see in the world and our incapacity to bring in lasting justice, Christians place their faith – their confidence and trust, in the Creator God. This Creator God has given us his Word that he will set all things right again. God will take this broken, messed-up world and restore it to the way he intended it to be.
And Christians do not leave God’s restoration of all things for the distant future. No, we have faith that he has already begun to make right all the injustices in this world! If the just will live by faith, this faith involves recognising that God is decisively at work to fix the World through Jesus. God’s plan to restore the world to its original order has been launched through the Son of God and Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. All the cries for justice find their answer in Jesus, who took upon himself the accumulated consequences of our injustice. He died and rose again so that God’s plan to set the world right again, may be put into effect. Jesus our Lord has abolished death by his resurrection so that in the end all tears may be dried and the world may be filled with justice and joy.
So, living by faith, and trusting that God is at work, setting all things right through Jesus, we have access to God’s boundless forgiveness. God has promised that even our acts of injustice will be forgiven. No matter how many times you have sinned, nor how often, nor how bad, if you come to God in repentance and faith he has promised to forgive you. He does so not because he owes it to you, but freely, out of his good pleasure. Our Great God does impossible things: he offers you, because of his Son’s death as your substitute, forgiveness without limit.
But, faith also does not say, “Well, if I’m forgiven and God’s going to sort it all out anyway, then I’ll just leave it to him. No need to get involved myself.” Christians entrust themselves to God, like someone putting their most precious possession into safe keeping in a bank or secure vault. But at the same time God commits something to us: a particular calling, a new set of responsibilities, our vocations. Our task is to be faithful and responsible in our vocations, to seek justice as we are able. We are to help and support our neighbours in their every physical need. We are to help our others to improve and protect their possessions and income. We are to defend and speak well of everyone. And, insofar as we do this as our various stations in life allow us, we are in some small yet imperfect way, extending the justice of God into the world. We are called to be Christ’s hands and feet as we love and serve our neighbours. He empowers us to do this through the Holy Spirit given through his Word. We serve our neighbour because we ought to, true enough. But we also serve others because in Christ, God has done the impossible for us. God has been utterly faithful to his promises for us. He has forgiven us, given us new life, and the promise that justice and peace will abound when this world experiences the same resurrection life which we begun to enjoy.
So, as Christians, we live by faith that God through Jesus the Messiah has already begun the great undertaking of restoring justice to the world. He starts that undertaking by forgiving the sins of those who repent. Faith is not something which makes God owe you. Faith sees that God is at work in the world through Jesus. We may have small faith, but it is faith in a Great God who does impossible things, and he does them for you in Christ.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.