I have often heard people say, “I wish I had stronger faith.” And there have been times when I have said the same thing myself. We usually make such statements during moments of distress such as serious illness, the loss of a loved one, or some significant disappointment.
Those same sentiments are expressed in the Bible. We hear them in the laments that are so numerous in the Book of Psalms. This Sunday we listen to a lament from the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk prophesied during a time of political intrigue and impending disaster, which would culminate in the capture of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. In the midst of that tumult the prophet utters a heartfelt prayer: “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?” Habakkuk boldly expresses what some people of faith feel at times: God is not listening to my prayers.
The response to his lament may not have pleased Habakkuk. God orders him to write down the vision on the tablets so that everyone will be able to read it. He is reminded that the vision of God’s justice will be fulfilled, even if it seems a long time coming. In the meantime, the prophet must be patient and remain faithful. Perhaps Habakkuk would have preferred a different answer to his prayer, one that promised immediate relief.
In the gospel reading from Luke, Jesus has just warned his apostles about the danger of scandal in the community, and he has also instructed them about the need to forgive continually. In the wake of that challenging teaching, the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith. It is as if they want him to give them some spiritual steroids so that they will be able to accept his teaching and follow him to Jerusalem. Jesus responds by assuring them that even the smallest amount of faith has powerful effects. Then he tells them a rather disconcerting story about a servant and his master. The servant must be willing to carry out his work faithfully without looking for special rewards.
Most of us need an occasional shot in the arm to keep our faith strong and vibrant. And it is important for us to recall those moments in our lives when the presence and action of God became more palpable to us. It may have happened in a sacramental celebration, a moment of personal prayer, an encounter with another believer, or through the beauty of nature.
Today’s Scripture readings remind us, though, that growth in faith does not happen only in the special, uplifting moments. We cannot always measure the depth of our faith by how holy or inspired we feel. It is through our daily efforts to be faithful to God, to live our faith in the everyday, that our bond with God is strengthened. Sometimes that means waiting in faith for the answer to our prayers but continuing to pray nonetheless. It is in and through such everyday faithfulness that God becomes more real to us and we are drawn closer to God.
In the story that Jesus tells, he emphasizes that the servant who comes in from the field should not expect his master to wait on him just because he has done a day’s work. Yet in the Eucharist the Risen Christ does wait on us. He invites us to come to the table where he offers us the gift of himself. As we approach the table of the Lord may we pray for the grace of everyday fidelity, remembering that Christ is ever faithful to us.