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Proper 26C 1st Reading

Dr. John Wright | Professor of Theology and Christian Scripture, Point Loma Nazarene University

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4

No reading of any text stands by itself. Texts work by complex interactions with other texts. By the time the congregation will read the OT reading from Habakkuk, they will have gathered, invoked the eternally Triune God’s presence, and sang praises. Psalm 119:137-144 provides an immediate response. The readings and gather will slowly grow until the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19:1-10. The Habakkuk reading prepares the congregation to hear, “The Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost” – itself a wonderful introduction to the Invitation to the Great Thanksgiving, the Holy Eucharist.

The Habakkuk reading participates in this movement. The text allows no warm sentimentality, privatized piety that masks the atheism behind it. The text is taken up into the lectionary movement toward the story of Zacchaeus. The socio-historical origins that produced the text have embedded themselves in the text. The text arises from the Persian period; it addresses a small, poor, weak network of Judeans in trying to keep them tied to their God through gathering for economic redistribution of goods and worship in the Temple. These relationship between these origins and the fact that God has not left us to ourselves as seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus open the preacher to a narrative whereby the story of Zacchaeus witnesses to human beings to live in the reality that “The Son of man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Archaeological studies have shown the poverty and numerical weakness of the Judeans in the Persian period. Stronger, more powerful people infringed upon them. They struggled to sustain the continuity from generation to generation, as they lost more and more of their children to marriage. In the south and west, the Edomites and others slowly infiltrated into their lands. Their rival kin, the Samaritans, remained much more deeply embedded into the wealthy networks of the Persian imperial overlord’s. The Temple in Jerusalem remained the only institution to bring the people together, to form an economic stimulus to preserve wealth from draining into the hands of the wealthy, to pass on the faith and worship of the God of Israel to the next generation. The Judeans experienced slow, deadly social and economic assimilation to the surrounding nations. Ironically, their main source of wealth most likely remained from patrons who descended from those taken into exile, centuries earlier.

Sound familiar? The complaints of the prophet activate an awareness of the world in which North American, particularly those of European descent, live. The cultural privilege afforded before is now gone. Though the President of the United States receive a Nobel Peace prize, the United States is currently engaged in fifteen wars. Economic bifurcations increase, particularly affecting the 20-35 year olds. Social structures like families, necessary for the thriving of children, become eroded. Sociologists show how the new generation is even more radically individualist and lassiz-faire about others in support of a new hedonism.

The Prophetic words speak for us. Violence and conflict; lack of economic development opportunities; individualism that leads to moral dissolution. They all go together. They all prepare for the story of Zaccheaus. The text speaks in protest against the apparent silence of God of the text. It hovers on the despair that can lead to the abandonment of life within the church when faith loses its intelligibility. We don’t lose people from our congregations because they have rebelled against God by drinking or smoking – the more powerful assemblages have long drained those of any real reason to leave a congregation. We lose or fail to have a vitality of faith that calls people into the church due to agnosticism, explicit or perhaps implicit.

The prophetic word, however, speaks for in faith that does not allow the world to disenchant. The prophet speaks in 2:1. Perhaps it is good to have the congregation identify with the prophet. Perhaps they can identify as the audience of the prophet – the prophet addresses the people, not God. The prophetic word is where the prophet’s takes upon himself the faith to continue for the sake of the people. The prophet will not let the world collapse into strict immanence.