“How long, O LORD? I cry for help, but you do not listen! I cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery?” (Habakkuk)
Why does God not intervene?
A ferocious storm swept through one of the towns there, and in the aftermath, a man clambered onto his roof to escape the floodwaters. As he sat there, someone in a canoe came by and offered to carry him to safety. “No, thanks,” the man replied. “God will save me.” The man paddled off, and the waters continued to rise.
Shortly afterward, someone in a boat pulled up to offer help. “No, thank you,” the man said again. “God will deliver me.” The waters rose higher. Finally, a Coast Guard helicopter appeared; someone with a megaphone offered to drop a ladder. “No, thank you,” the man said for a final time. “I prayed for God to save me.”
The helicopter flew off, the waters engulfed the roof, and the man drowned. When the man arrived in heaven, he asked in confusion, “What happened, God? Why didn’t you rescue me?”
God replied, “I sent you a canoe, a boat, and a helicopter. What more did you want?”
Did God intervene?
Another story, a Sufi story, goes like this:
“A man was overwhelmed by all the pain and suffering he saw around him. And so, he raised his cry to God. “Look at all this suffering and violence. Look at all these murders and these tragedies. Oh my God, why didn’t you intervene?”. Then God said to him: “But I sent you!”
In both stories we deal with people, very religious, but disintegrated in their life. “The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live”.
The Hebrew word for “rash” עפל (‘aphal) refers to the verb “to swell”, “to inflate”. Who is the “rash” one? Someone who boasts himself, inflates himself.
The person in both stories is someone whose ego is so inflated that he wants everything to revolve around him. He thinks and acts as the Big “actor” of reality. And God must be at his service.
In today’s Gospel, we are told that the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” It is a request of being inflated. And Jesus does not delay answering, but immediately says: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed.”
The contrast between “increase, boost, amplify, inflate” and Jesus’ answer is unbelievable! Think of yourself as a mustard seed; and then imagine yourself as a holy person.
Today we remember Thérèse of Lisieux. She writes in her diary that “it has ever been my desire to become a Saint, but I have always felt, in comparing myself with the Saints, that I am as far removed from them as the grain of sand, which the passer-by tramples underfoot, is remote from the mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds.” This attitude of faith she called it the “Little Way,” a simple approach to the spiritual life that seeks to do ordinary things from within the overflowing love of God.
The faith by which we shall live is like a mustard seed, a grain of sand. Jesus’ words do not suggest any kind of false humility.
After you have done all that you have been commanded to do, we are not glad to hear: “you are an unprofitable servant”. Any time we help someone, any time we do an act of Christian charity, or serve in the parish, what do we expect to hear? We wait for a compliment, a public recognition. We expect to be thanked for what we’ve done.
And Jesus tells his apostles: “You have done what you had to do.” Is not Jesus unkind, in behaving like that? Ungrateful. Does he want to humiliate us?
Jesus is simply shrinking our ego, by telling us: “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.” That means:
Do not serve your ego first, but let your ego go…. And serve a bigger Self. “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mat 6:33) All things will be given, even your “own” self!
In our mind and from our standpoint of view, we consider ourselves “doers” (more or less) in the situations of life. We claim to be able to control circumstances, other people, ourselves and even God.
We tend to get things work out for “our” good. And when we pray, we want God at our disposal and be effective. Everything must go, revolving around our ego. The only real “actor” in this game, it’s me.
Jesus is asking his apostles to do the impossible, that is to let go of their inflated ego. “Be uprooted and planted in the sea.” In his Christmas Homily, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus speaks of God as some great Sea of Being, limitless and unbounded, transcending all contents and limitations.
Jesus is pointing to the apostles and to us to be focused on that great Sea of Divine Love, to be planted, to dwell in the Spirit who is the power working in us and in all things: a creative energy that empowers us to live any circumstance and situation of life with the same power of God. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” (Rom 8:28)
The Spirit dwells in us and has kept us “alive”, especially in the time of Covid-19.
The Spirit is active in us and shakes the ground of our standpoint. Jesus let the stinking air out of our comfort-zone and breathes into us the freshness of His Spirit.
It is not enough to “believe in God” (increase our faith!) We are called to “live in God”. And live in a lighter way, a Little Way. “When you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:3-4)
A vibrant young Jewish woman who lived in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in the early 1940s and died in Auschwitz in 1943, Etty Hillesum, wrote in her diaries her religious awakening. In one of her lines, Etty expresses the spiritual transformation she underwent.
“There is a really deep well inside me. And in it dwells God. Often stones and grit block the well, and God is buried beneath. Then He must be dug out again.
“Dear God – she continues – these are anxious times. I shall promise You one thing: I shall never burden my today with cares about my tomorrow, although that takes some practice. Each day is sufficient unto itself. I shall try to help You, God. All that really matters is that we safeguard that little piece of You, God, in ourselves. And perhaps in others as well.
(Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbork (New York: Henry Holt & Company, 1996), 178-179.)