Our passage today is an example of how the different Gospel writers piece together sayings of Jesus to emphasize different things.
1st Reading (Track 1): Lamentations 1:1-6
The Book of Lamentations consists of five poems lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem (Zion) in 586 b.c.e. The first four poems are acrostic, that is, each verse begins with a subsequent letter of the Hebrew alphabet (in the third of the poems the letter lasts for three verses). The poems articulate the grief and sense of abandonment experienced by the people. Notice the descriptors used just in these six verses: the city weeps bitterly, has no one to comfort her, has gone into exile, her gates are desolate, her children have gone away, all her majesty has departed. The impact is even more strongly felt if one reads Lamentations alongside the “Songs of Zion” in the psalms: 46, 48, 76, 84, 87.
1:1 How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like a widow she has become, she that was great among the nations! She that was a princess among the provinces has become a vassal. 2 She weeps bitterly in the night, with tears on her cheeks; among all her lovers she has no one to comfort her; all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they have become her enemies. 3 Judah has gone into exile with suffering and hard servitude; she lives now among the nations, and finds no resting place; her pursuers have all overtaken her in the midst of her distress. 4 The roads to Zion mourn, for no one comes to the festivals; all her gates are desolate, her priests groan; her young girls grieve, and her lot is bitter. 5 Her foes have become the masters, her enemies prosper, because the Lord has made her suffer for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe. 6 From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. Her princes have become like stags that find no pasture; they fled without strength before the pursuer.
Canticle (Track 1): A Song of Waiting (Lamentations 3:19-26)
In place of a psalm we have a section of the third poem of Lamentations, liturgically adapted. It is perhaps the greatest moment of consolation in the book. The “this” of the third stanza refers to what follows, not what comes before (“when” is often translated “but”). It is important to remember that it is only honesty about the disaster that can produce any kind of real hope, and that the book goes on to challenge this hope in the strongest of terms.
The thought of my trouble and my homelessness *
is as bitter as wormwood and gall.
My mind dwells on it continually; *
my soul is weighed down within me.
When I remember this, I have hope: *
by God’s kindness, we will not be destroyed;
For God’s mercies are never-ending *
and are new every morning.
How great is your faithfulness, O God! *
“You are my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I hope in you.”
You are good to those who wait with patience, *
to every soul that seeks you.
It is good to wait, even in silence, *
for the salvation of the Lord.
Psalm 137:1-6 (Track 1)
Psalm 137 is the quintessential psalm of lament concerning the exile in Babylon. “Zion,” a word whose origin is obscure, is generally synonymous with Jerusalem, in particular the Temple mount. With Zion destroyed, says this psalm, so is the people’s ability to praise. The psalm includes three more verses which take an angry and vengeful turn. This is the raw voice of the powerless.
1 By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept, *
when we remembered you, O Zion.
2 As for our harps, we hung them up *
on the trees in the midst of that land.
3 For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,
and our oppressors called for mirth: *
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
4 How shall we sing the Lord’s song *
upon an alien soil?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem, *
let my right hand forget its skill.
6 Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you, *
if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.
1st Reading (Track 2): Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4
Nothing is known about the prophet Habakkuk, although he seems to have prophesied sometime between the death of King Josiah (609 bce) and the beginning of the exile in Babylon (597 bce). Habakkuk begins with a dialogue between the prophet and God, in which the prophet laments the injustice of his day. In the portion of the passage we do not read (1:5-13), God explains that the Babylonians will be his instruments of judgment. The prophet does not like this any better! Is it justice, he asks, if the wicked swallow the righteous! The answer is the second part of our reading this morning. God asks for patience and a single-mindedness about his promise for the future. In essence he is saying, “Keep your eyes on the prize.”
1:1 The oracle that the prophet Habakkuk saw. 2 O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? 3 Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. 4 So the law becomes slack and justice never prevails. The wicked surround the righteous—therefore judgment comes forth perverted. 2:1 I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint. 2 Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. 3 For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. 4 Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
Psalm 37:1-10 (Track 2)
Psalm 37 (which contains a total of 40 verses) is an acrostic wisdom poem which reads very much like sections of the Book of Proverbs. In the face of the observation that the wicked prosper, it promises that the they will not ultimately prevail and that “the righteous shall possess the land.”
1 Do not fret yourself because of evildoers; *
do not be jealous of those who do wrong.
2 For they shall soon wither like the grass, *
and like the green grass fade away.
3 Put your trust in the Lord and do good; *
dwell in the land and feed on its riches.
4 Take delight in the Lord, *
and he shall give you your heart’s desire.
5 Commit your way to the Lord and put your trust in him, *
and he will bring it to pass.
6 He will make your righteousness as clear as the light *
and your just dealing as the noonday.
7 Be still before the Lord *
and wait patiently for him.
8 Do not fret yourself over the one who prospers, *
the one who succeeds in evil schemes.
9 Refrain from anger, leave rage alone; *
do not fret yourself; it leads only to evil.
10 For evildoers shall be cut off, *
but those who wait upon the Lord shall possess the land.
2nd Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-14
The Second Letter to Timothy is a highly personal letter from mentor to protégé. It appears that Timothy has endured a time of trial and is struggling with his calling, if not also his faith. Paul reminds him of the faith of his mother and grandmother, and also of his own situation—Paul has endured suffering and shame as an apostle. Ultimately, Paul says, the power to overcome these trials lives within us—the Holy Spirit, alive as God’s greatest gift.
1:1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, for the sake of the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus, 2 To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. 3 I am grateful to God—whom I worship with a clear conscience, as my ancestors did—when I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. 4 Recalling your tears, I long to see you so that I may be filled with joy. 5 I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. 6 For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; 7 for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. 8 Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. 11 For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, 12 and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. 13 Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
Gospel Reading: Luke 17:5-10
Our passage today is an example of how the different Gospel writers piece together sayings of Jesus to emphasize different things. In Matthew’s Gospel, the saying about the Mustard Seed is in the context of the disciples’ unsuccessful attempt to cast out a demon (17:19-21). Here Luke uses the saying in the context of the necessity of forgiveness (see verses 3-4). The passage also highlights Jesus’ frequent use of hyperbole to make a point. The example of the duty of “worthless slaves” is unique to Luke and is difficult, but it is an example of hyperbole. The simple point of the whole passage is that forgiveness is a fundamental practice of the followers of Jesus and, no matter how difficult, it must be done, even if there is no reward.
17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!’”
The Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. The translation of the Psalm are from The Book of Common Prayer. The Canticle translation is copyright © 2007 by Church Publishing, Inc. Commentaries are copyright © 2019 Epiphany Esources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843, www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for group study. Bulletin inserts are available for parishes. Go to our website for more information. And like us on Facebook!