The Prophet reflects that his readers, or hearers, are living in dangerous and violent times. The righteous feel surrounded by wickedness. Justice doesn't seem to be done. He could be describing our world - the war on terrorism, global warming, violent crime, a legal system that many people cannot afford to resort to when things go wrong.
But, lest we're attempted to abandon hope, the Prophet says that God still has a vision for a better world which we are called to share and hold on to. It will be realised at the appointed time and if it seems a long while coming that is no reason to despair. We must be patient. For, whereas people who have no problems - and seem to be enjoying life - are often living just for the moment, the righteous - that is those who are right with God - live by faith. They share a vision which keeps them faithful and trusting, even when things get really tough They are always on the lookout for something better.
Are we obviously 'faithful' people? Is our outlook characterised by faith? Do we have a clear vision of better times to come? Are we working for a new kind of world?
2 Thessalonians 1.1-4, 11-12
Paul takes up the same theme in his second letter to the church at Thessalonica. The congregation there was also suffering from persecution and affliction and, like the Prophet Habbakuk, Paul urges his readers to be steadfast, faithful and full of good resolve. Again, God's grace will give them the strength they need.
Do we ask God for the strength to persevere and keep the faith in difficult times?
As is so often the case, the Gospel reading in the lectionary has little connection with the other passages. It is yet another of Luke's stories about someone whose actions go against type. Sometimes Luke relays parables and stories about people who appear to be good but are actually very bad. Here he narrates the story of someone with a deservedly bad reputation who undergoes a surprising change of heart and turns out not to be so bad after all. It is an example of the transforming power of an encounter with Jesus. If we meet him in the right frame of mind, with enough self-understanding to recognise our need to change and be changed, and if we respond to Jesus' offer of friendship in faith and with true conviction, even the worst of us can turn over a new leaf and be transformed.
Not long ago I found myself, as part of a team-building day, dangling thirty feet from the ground in the canopy of some of the large pine trees in part of the Forestry Commission's plantation at Sherwood Forest. Scaling those dizzy heights, and just for fun, takes some resolution but I was quite happy to do it because I was attached to a safety line. Imagine the resolution which Zacchaeus needed, not just to climb a tree but to do so in front of a crowd of people. It was the sort of resolution which he also needed to accept the challenge to turn his whole life around and dismantle his considerable fortune.
Are we that ready to be transformed?