Several commercials for the VISA check card show a smoothly choreographed series of transactions at a store, a food court, a basketball game, until someone wants to pay with cash, and then everything grinds to an irritating halt.
Few will deny that we live in a world that glorifies instant gratification. We hate to wait—for anything! Stores are designed and managed to minimize waiting in checkout lines. “No lines, no waiting” over the loudspeaker starts a mad rush of carts toward a new register. The “buy now, pay later” world of easy credit tells us that we can have whatever we want—right now! The billion-dollar diet industry is built on the premise that the excess pounds we’ve put on over the years will simply melt away in a matter of weeks.
I admit that I’m often seduced by these “no wait” promises. I’m one of those people who take food out of the microwave five or six seconds before the bell goes off, just because I don’t want to wait any longer. And yet for all my tendencies toward impatience, I have always found the prophet Habakkuk’s message in today’s first reading strangely stirring:
The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint;
if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.
Even the most impatient among us are willing to wait for the big things. This is what God is trying to tell us through Habakkuk. The best things in life can’t be hurried. Birth, death, the growth of a child, recovery after an injury, the blossoming—or healing—of a relationship.
Waiting and faith are connected. We can wait patiently when we have faith that the outcome will be worth the wait, when we feel the reason behind the waiting. Habakkuk adds another word into the mix: integrity. It’s a word with strong implications of wholeness. He reminds us:
The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.
We’re called to wait patiently, but not necessarily passively. There’s a big difference between a rash action and a faith-filled one. Careless actions most often lead to misunderstanding, even violence.
In the Gospel, the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith, as though faith were something that could be measured. He tells them that it’s not a question of needing a bigger faith. It’s doing what that faith tells us we can—and must—do. Not necessarily uprooting mulberry trees, but perhaps uprooting the prejudice that keeps us from pursuing real justice in our society, or ending the mindless cycle of consumption and waste that threatens to destroy our planet.
The changes that need to happen, whether in our own lives or in the collective life of our world, aren’t going to happen overnight. In most cases, the things that are wrong happened over a long period of time, and the healing, too, will be slow in coming. But come it will, if we have faith in the rightness of God’s plan.
The words of the prophets call us to have faith in our unique abilities, our God-given talents, in the vision that waits to be fulfilled in our lives. Recently I read a quote from St. Catherine of Siena: “If you are what you should be, you will set the world on fire.” This is the kind of faith Jesus tells his disciples that they already have. This is the kind of faith we have, whether we know it or not.