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18:6-9; Heb 11:1-2, 8-19; Lk 12:32-48 Wis
A man was praying one day and used these words in his prayer: “Lord, let me first see and then I will believe”. He heard the Lord reply to him: “First believe, then you will see”. Faith believes without seeing.
Faith is one of the major themes of the readings of today. The text from the Letter to the Hebrews begins with a definition of faith and then goes on to give the example of Abraham, a pioneer of faith. In this text, two major events in Abraham’s life are cited to show what faith really is.
The first of these events is the promise of land that God made. Though a sojourner and wanderer, Abraham believed that, if God made a promise, that promise would be fulfilled. And, it was. Thus, faith is not simply the belief that God exists, but is a loving trust that God will work only for a person’s good.
The second event is the promise of progeny. Though both he and his wife were old, he believed that, if God promised him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the seashore, it would be so. And, it was. Faith hopes. Faith looks beyond the present moment to a future that is held in God’s hands. Faith is tenacious and enduring. Faith is able to accept promises deferred in the firm knowledge that God always fulfils the promises made.
This is the faith to which Jesus invites his disciples, in the Gospel text of today, when he asks them to be ready and persevering. Since the future is indeed in God’s hands, the disciples must live in the present in such a manner that they are always ready. The loins of the disciples must be girded which means literally that they must draw up the long outer garment and tuck it into the sash around their waist or hips so as to be prepared for vigorous activity. This readiness is achieved when the disciples do that which they are meant to do. This means that they are devoted and dedicated to the task at hand. This means that they will not let distractions, fatigue, or delays divert them from their duties. The disciples must make the fulfilment of what their master has asked them to do their highest obligation and their greatest concern. Since they do not know when the master will come, they have to persevere in the firm knowledge that he will, indeed, come. The outcome of such devotion to duty is that, when the master does come, he will become slave for his servants.
Faith is not coerced. The disciples are not forced to do what they do not want to do. As a matter of fact, if they decide to do something, they must do so freely. Abraham was willing to leave behind a life of apostasy and accommodation to the values and mores of the culture within which he lived. The disciples of Jesus must be willing to give up temporary material things for a treasure that lasts forever. Abraham was free to return to the land he left behind with its temporal pleasures just as the disciples are free to return to the material life. The decision is entirely up to them and they are free to decide, one way or another. This is not an easy choice to make since the material world holds many attractions; one is always tempted to return. Also, it is not always easy to see, as clearly as one would like, the advantages of the treasure that lasts forever. It is not always easy to persevere. This, however, remains the challenge of faith.
This challenge is mentioned in the first reading of today which speaks of the deliverance of the Israelites from the hands of the Egyptians. God had promised release to the captives and God was faithful to the promise made. It was not always easy for the Israelites to see and they were tempted on numerous occasions to give up and give in. However, the promise was fulfilled and they were set free.
Faith is indeed, as the letter to the Hebrews points out, the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. It is a call and a challenge to believe, even when all evidence is to the contrary and things do not seem to go the way we want. It is a call and a challenge to persevere, even when we are tempted to give up because the road ahead is too steep and the going too difficult. It is a call and a challenge to keep our feet firmly in the present with a confident eye on the future. It is a call and a challenge to believe and to know that the future is in God’s capable hands and that we have nothing to fear. We need only do what we are called to do in the present and to believe.
Just as God was faithful to his promises to the Israelites at the time of their exodus and to Abraham with regard to the land and progeny, and just as Jesus was faithful to his promises to his disciples, so will God be faithful to us. Will we dare to have faith? Will we dare to believe?