O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrong-doing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise.
Then the Lord answered me and said: Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so that a runner may read it. For there is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end, and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.
Come, ring out our joy to the Lord;
hail the rock who saves us.
Let us come before him, giving thanks,
with songs let us hail the Lord. (R./)
Come in; let us bow and bend low;
let us kneel before the God who made us
for he is our God and we
the people who belong to his pasture,
the flock that is led by his hand. (R./)
O that today you would listen to his voice!
'Harden not your hearts as at Meribah,
as on that day at Massah in the desert
when your fathers put me to the test;
when they tried me, though they saw my work.' (R./)
For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline. Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God.
Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.
The apostles said to Jesus, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.
"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
"Lord increase our faith," the apostles requested. Elsewhere they asked him, "Lord teach us how to pray" (Lk 11:1). In essence the two requests were the same. To pray is to focus our heart on God, to have faith in God's concern for us. Every prayer is an act of faith in God, and conversely whenever we turn to God in faith, we are praying. It is no more possible to have faith without prayer than to swim without water. But we must try to pray to God in the right spirit. For often we are trying to bring God around to our way of thinking rather than putting our thoughts under God's guidance.
Sometimes prayer is used as a magical last resort, worth a try when all else fails. There is a story about a lawyer walking along a street with a scholarly friend. When they came to a ladder leaning against a house which was being painted, the scholar friend refused to pass under it. The lawyer laughed and said "Surely you don't believe in that old superstition about never walking under a ladder!" "No, I don't believe in it," was the reply, "but I never waste a chance of avoiding an accident." Maybe that's how some of us approach prayer. We don't strongly believe in it, but we admit the possibility that it might work, as a last resort. So we could join in that request, "Lord, increase our faith; Lord, teach us how to pray."
Jesus did not just teach his friends how to pray, he showed them how, by his own example. Often he would turn to God and address him as Father. Early in the morning he would steal away to the hillside, his favourite place for quiet prayer. When visiting Jerusalem, he would go at night to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, so Judas knew where to find him on the night of his arrest. On that occasion we know that "being in anguish he prayed the longer." His prayer in the garden is clearly reported. "Father, if it is your will, take this cup away from me. Nevertheless, let your will, not mine be done" (Lk 22:42f). Well, the Father did not take away the cup of suffering from Jesus. But by embracing the will of God, something greater was to follow for Jesus, ultimately his resurrection and ascension. "Unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain. But if it dies, it yields much fruit."
"If they could only see me now." What would our parents or friends think of us if they were present at this or that encounter, whether generous or mean. Many feel this need to be seen by others, especially to be valued or praised. Unless there's an audience of some kind to give us credit, we hardly think it worthwhile. How easy it is to dress up things with a superficial cosmetic of virtue. Yet only God sees the heart and knows the motive.
The opinions of others matter, certainly, to some extent. But what counts in the long run is how God sees us, not human opinion. Nothing compares with that judgment. The basic issue is whether we have been faithful in serving. Because of fidelity, the righteous will live. Life in God's friendship, the state of grace, does not depend on social reputation, but on our inner quality. As Paul says, one cannot even fully judge oneself. In this matter of righteousness, we can only trust in God's mercy, while making an honest effort to serve Him. Then the principle will apply: for the one who loves God, all things work together unto good.
If I did things simply for God's approval, would I be exploited by others? So I won't commit to generosity until others doing so too. The rat-race is nobody's fault, and yet it's everybody's. Adopting a spirit of service can only begin when individuals choose it for its own sake. "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask rather what you can do for your country." Ultimately, this is the way to salvation. The just person shall live by fidelity. When all of our days have been lived, and the Master comes to judge our service, only those who have been generous will feel at home in his company. Then we will see that this was the right way to live in God's sight. He will say, "Well done good and faithful servant," and we will answer simply "It was no more than our duty."
Unprofitable servants? A better word might be "ordinary". The servants had just done their job, what was expected. People are often remiss in the service of God. We are casual about prayer, regard morality as a do-it-yourself construct, and for any works of charity we may do, we expect to be congratulated. But with Jesus as our guide, we would do those things as normal. The standards he sets for us are high. Our lives would be nobler, if we also choose them for ourselves.