Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)
Readings: Wis 18:6-9; Ps 33:1, 12, 18-20, 22; Heb 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48
Seeing is believing! Really?
The phrase 'Seeing is believing' is well known to us all. It suggests skepticism; it implies that we will not accept the truth of something unless we can somehow see it ourselves. While the phrase may validly express a concern for verification, it contradicts basic religious faith. To paraphrase the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews: 'Not-seeing is believing.' This phrase may, at first, be difficult to grasp? But then so is real faith.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews turns to Abraham as a perfect example of such faith. Without knowing exactly what he would find as he followed the inspiration of God, Abraham left his home of origin and journeyed to a foreign land. Abraham did not see what was ahead of him, yet he believed. Down through the centuries, migrants of every nation have known the uncertainty and fear that accompanys such a step. In their case, faith alone spurred them on. Abraham clung tenaciously to God's promise of descendants, though to him such a promise seemed to be an impossibility. He did not see how the promise could be fulfilled, yet he believed. The greatest test of his faith came to Abraham when he was asked by God to sacrifice the very child who was to fulfill that promise of descendants. In being willing to sacrifice this child, Abraham showed that he was not only willing to relinquish his son, but also the future of his entire household. He perfectly exemplifies the adage: "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen."
The instructions given by Jesus in the gospel require the same kind of faith. However, the focus there is not the seeming incredibility of the object of faith, but the need to cling to that faith even when its fulfillment is long in coming. The followers of Jesus are told not to seek security in the realities of this world, but to look for it in the treasures that belong to the reign of God. Jesus then exhorts them to be steadfast in their faith, and he provides a story to explain what he means. Servants were entrusted with the management of a household. No one knew just when the householder would return. Therefore, a wise servant would be ever vigilant, since the householder could return at any moment and would expect to find everything in order and all awaiting his reappearance. "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen."
If faith is not based on what is seen, then on what is it based? Each of today's readings suggests that the foundation of such faith is the trustworthiness of God who has generously blessed these same people in the past. The author of the Book of Wisdom encouraged the people of his time by reminding them of how God had protected their ancestors as they escaped from Egyptian bondage. They took courage in the "sure knowledge of the oaths [of God] in which they put their faith." God's faithfulness to Abraham is invoked to strengthen the faith of the Christians to whom the Letter to the Hebrews was sent. It was because of this faith that "the ancient were well attested." Writing to his community of Christians, Luke recounts how Jesus instructed his followers to be steadfast: "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom." In many ways, the faith that is handed down from the past is grounded in the goodness of God shown in that same past.
Like believers of long ago, we too have been called to cling to the hope of a future that may seem too good to be true. We live in a world of unimaginable insecurity. Millions of people have been torn from their homes, driven out into the world with nowhere to go. Unlike Abraham they were not promised a new home. In what or in whom can their faith be based? Vast populations have been stamped out as a result of genocide or pandemics like AIDS. For these people, there is no promise descendants. How will these households be rebuilt? And what can be said about the countless people who languish under the thumbs of oppressive governments? How will they be led to freedom?
The gospel provides answers to these questions. The reign of God has been entrusted to us. Today we are the stewards in charge of the household, who "distribute the food allowance at the proper time." We are the ones called to provide shelter for the homeless, new life for the desperate, freedom for the oppressed. We must be the sign of faith in today's world. Can we believe this? Will we pass the test of faith?
Dianne Bergant, CSA
Carroll Stuhlmueller, CP, Distinguished Professor of Old Testament Studies
This reflection first appeared in America magazine and can now be found in The Word for Every Season: Reflections on the Lectionary Readings (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 2010).
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