1. Wanting The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” (Luke 17:5-6). There’s an old saying, “What you want, you get.” It is true that many doubt this and think that they have wanted many things that they did not get. But it is likely they didn’t want it enough. Precluding physical impossibilities and other impossible things, when we really want something enough we usually get it. That’s because we work at it and have a passion for it.
Many people who say they cannot find time to pray or go to Church, still find time to golf, watch TV and eat. They find the time because they want to do these things. They do not find time to pray or go to Mass because they do not want to do these things enough.
Hence, the apostles ask the Lord to increase their faith. In effect they ask for a deeper desire to know the Lord. Too often we miss a step in our prayer. We might ask the Lord to help us to pray when what we really should ask for is that the Lord give us a desire to pray. For, when we want to pray, we will pray. When we want to be holy, we will naturally strive for holy practices. It is about what we desire, what we want. Ask the Lord to help you want Him and his kingdom. Ask the Lord for a new heart that has proper wants and desires. Ask the Lord for a new mind that has proper priorities and that prefers to think on what is good, true and beautiful. What you want, you get.
2. Waiting – The first reading speaks of our need to await the Lord’s action ––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? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord. Then the LORD answered me and said: Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For 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. The rash one has no integrity (Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4) –
Waiting is one of the great mysteries of the Christian life. Why God often makes us wait is not always clear. Perhaps He is trying to strengthen our faith. Perhaps he is helping us clarify or confirm our desires. But, truth be told, waiting on the Lord has a lot of mystery about it. Nevertheless it is consistently told us in scripture that we must learn to wait on the Lord and that there are blessings for those who do. For example:
- Ps 37:8 Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil….those who wait for the LORD shall possess the land.
- Is 49:23 those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.
- Lam 3:25 The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
- Is 40:31 but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
And so, waiting is a fundamental of firm faith. Gospel music is replete with waiting themes. One song says , You can’t Hurry God, you just have to wait, trust and never doubt him, no matter how long it takes. He may not come when you want him but he’s always right on time. Another song says, Weeping may endure for a night but joy will come with the morning light. Other songs counsel that we must hold on and hold out:
- I promised the Lord that I would hold out, he said he’d meet me in Galilee
- Hold on just a little while longer, every thing’s gonna be alright
- Keep your hand on the plow…Hold on
- Lord help me to hold out, until my change comes!
The reading from Habakkuk above warns that the rash man has no integrity. That is another way of saying that waiting is integral to the Christian life. It is a fundamental of faith. To have integrity means to have all the necessary pieces and parts which make up the whole. To lack patience then is to lack integrity, to lack an essential fundamental of the Christian faith.
3. Withstanding – And here the second reading counsels us— God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. (2 Tim 1:6-8)
This quote from today’s second reading tells us that life has its difficulties and challenges. Things do not always get easier by becoming a Christian. In fact, they often get harder since we must endure the hatred and ridicule of the world. Thus a fundamental of the Christian Faith is that we be able to withstand such things with courage.
Notice that this courage, power and love come from God, not from us. Hence it is grace that is being described here. This is not a moralism or a slogan. Withstanding means that God is “standing with” us, and we with God. Such withstanding is only possible by the relationship with God that comes by faith. In this way we discover the power, the capacity to withstand, to courageously live the Christian faith in a hostile world.
4. Working – And here the Gospel teaches: Who among you would say to your servant who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here immediately and take your place at table’? Would he not rather say to him, ‘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’? Is he grateful to that servant because he did what was commanded? So should it be with you. When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.‘” (Luke 17:6-10)
This saying of the Lord in today’s Gospel can tend to irritate us and even seem hurtful if we misunderstand grace and seek to understand this text by the flesh. Our flesh is self-centered and thinks we deserve praise and good things from God for the good things we do. The flesh expects, yes, it demands, rewards. But the fact is that we can never have God in debt to us, never. If we have good works, they are not our gift to God, they are His gift to us.
All our works of charity and faith which our flesh wants credit for, they are all God’s work and God’s gift. The letter to the Ephesians makes this clear:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God– not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Eph 2:8-10)
Hence if I think that I did something deserving of praise and reward I am thinking in terms of the flesh, not the Spirit. All I can really say to God is “Thank You” when I have done something good like caring for the poor or keeping the commandments. His grace alone permitted me to work them. God may speak elsewhere of rewarding us but that is His business. He is not in debt to us in anyway. When we have done everything we ought our one disposition should be gratitude. We are useless servants in the sense that we can do nothing without God’s grace. We can only do what we are told and what He enables us to do.
That said, it is clear, work is a pillar of faith. The text from today’s gospel and the text from Ephesians just above both make clear that work is something God has for us. James 2:17 says, So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead. Likewise, Jesus says, “It was not you who chose me. It was I who chose you that you should go and bear fruit that will last”(Jn 15:16) Work is a fundamental of faith.
5. Winning – And we conclude with a reference back to the First Reading: For the vision still has it’s time, it presses on to fulfillment and it will not disappoint. It will surely come, it will not be late.(Hab 2:3)
See what the end shall be! Yes, it is true that we must want, wait, withstand and work. But we do not do this to no purpose. We have a cross to carry. But if we carry it with the Lord, we carry it to glory. The end of today’s first reading makes this clear. There is an old Gospel song that says,
Harder yet may be the fight, Right may often yield to might, Wickedness awhile may reign, Satan’s cause may seem to gain, There is a God that rules above, With hand of power and heart of love, If I am right, He’ll fight my battle, I shall have peace some day. I do not know how long ’twill be, Nor what the future holds for me, But this I know, if Jesus leads me, I shall get home some day.
This is what Habakkuk describes, that we will win with Jesus. He describes a victory that is
- Future – the vision still has it’s time, it presses on to fulfillment
- Fantastic – and it will not disappoint
- Firm – It will surely come
- Fixed – it will not be late
For all those who walk with Jesus on the way of the Cross, there is victory up ahead. Even here we already enjoy the fruits of crosses past. Our withstanding of the past has given us strength for today. Our waitings of the past have had their fulfillment and are the hope that our current waiting too will have its fruit. Our work by God’s grace has already granted benefits to ourselves and others.
But these are but a small foretaste of a greater glory to come, which waits for us in heaven. Yes, if we want, and wait, withstand and work, we will win! I promise it to you in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Refrain of this song says, I do not know how long t’will be nor what the future holds for me. But this I know, If Jesus leads me, I shall get home some day. (I am not wild about falsetto singing (women or boys should sing soprano…But the song is magnificent).