During tough times, people throughout history have reached out to God for strength. To this day, we still rely on the philosophy of prophets to bolster our faith. In more recent history, when faced with Nazi death camps, Communist nihilism, slavery of all kinds, and the undying human selfishness that inspires all such evils, the philosophy of German scholar Friedrich Nietzsche was a Godsend: “What does not kill me makes me stronger.”
In this Sunday’s gospel reading (Lk 17:5-10), Jesus’ disciples come to him for a mood booster like that, saying: “Lord, increase our faith.” What advice does he give them?
“When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do.'”
Not quite as pithy as Nietzsche’s philosophy, but inspiration comes from knowing Jesus lived and died by his own teachings. He came into the world to serve masterfully, thereby teaching his disciples and us to follow his example faithfully. Through John he teaches us:
Whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. (John 14: 12-13).
Paul later adapted this lesson for the Colossians in an effort to take them out of their earthly context and transport them to the heart of Christ’s Kingdom (Col 3:1-11):
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all and in all.
Still, we’re human. Sometimes we need something more than acceptance of our servanthood. We get that in this Sunday’s first reading through the prophet Habakkuk (Hab 1:2-3; 2:2-4), who gives voice to our occasional frustrations:
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?
God comforts His prophet, and those to whom he speaks, about his visions:
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; but the just one, because of his faith, shall live.
Shuffle quickly back to the future and Sunday’s second reading from Timothy (2 Tm 1:6-8, 13-14). He fuses the hope given to Habakkuk with the tough love that Christ embodied, then he molds it into a Nietzsche-like faith in our strength:
God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control. … Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. … Guard this rich trust with the help of the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.
The faith we get through these teachings tells us that although crucifixion killed Jesus, it made the Christ that survived in him—and now in us—stronger.