The Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2016 – Cycle C
Wisdom 18:6-9; Psalm 33; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48
Do you believe in things that are not seen?
Sure we do!
Do you believe in atoms? Yet none of us have seen an atom nor its subatomic particles of electrons, neutrons and protons.
Do you believe in electricity? We use it every day. It is energizing the lights above us. Yet none of us have ever seen electricity. We experience its familiar and well-known effects such as lightening during a storm, static electricity as our cloths cling together and we all presume that when we put a plug into the wall socket, the computer will work, the phone will recharge and the microwave will cook our food.
Do you believe in galaxies? Though we have seen photographs from the Hubble Space Telescope none of us have really seen beyond what our eyes allow: our star, the sun, and the myriad bright luminous spheres we are told are planets within our solar system and stars and galaxies beyond us. Without seeing we believe in the expanse of light years that is the Milky Way galaxy to the billions and billions of galaxies and worlds surpassing our understanding.
We believe the natural sciences all based on evidence offered to us that none of us have ever verified, have we? We believe in what is unseen. We trust science and thus we accept and use unseen aspects of creation every day without question.
Modern science and religious faith have been considered to be at odds with each other. You remember the Galileo incident? We live in an age of science but do we live in an age of faith? And are the two contradictory and irreconcilable? I find that the wonders of the human body, the vast range of animal and plant life, the unimaginable expanse of our expanding universe, the diversity of life in the depths and rhythms of the oceans revealed by the natural sciences are not in conflict with religious faith but reveal an unseen, mysterious and wondrous God in our midst.
Our ability to believe in things that are unseen in the natural world may help us to understand what we call faith in the spiritual realm.
Consider today’s passage from the Letter to the Hebrews with its wonderful litany:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to pick up and move…
By faith he traveled, not knowing where he was going, into a foreign country…
By faith Abraham received the power to bear children even though he was physically unable…
By faith Abraham was willing to sacrifice his God-promised son, Isaac…
What does the phrase, by faith, mean here?
We use the word faith as in the phrase, ‘Catholic Faith’. By it we mean the teachings, traditions, laws and structures of Catholic Christianity. For some Catholics this can be as minimal as whatever the popes have taught or as expansive as the theological and scriptural interpretations over the centuries. Is faith equivalent to ‘teachings’? Is that what Abraham based his actions on?
The Middle Ages is referred to as an Age of Faith. This intense period of faith saw the creation of the great cathedrals with their gothic-spired arms stretching for the heavens. Do the twentieth century skyscrapers of commerce which eclipsed and dwarfed the cathedral declare our age a greater Age of Faith? Is faith equivalent to ‘culture’? Is that what Abraham based his actions on?
Jesus offers the question in speaking about a dishonest judge and God’s justice, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” [Luke 18:8] Three times in Matthew’s Gospel, during the Sermon on the Mount, to his disciples after the storm on the sea, to Peter after he begins to sink while walking on water, we hear Jesus declare: “…Will God not provide for you, O you of little faith?” [Matthew 6:30] “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” [Matthew 8:26] “O you [Peter] of little faith, why did you doubt?” [Matthew 14:31] Is faith quantitative, that is, can you measure it? Did Abraham have more faith than other people? And what of Sarah’s faith?
Though we have come to speak of faith with various nuances, the phrase by faith Abraham and Sarah acted seems to be rooted in something far deeper since there is no body of teachings or a culture to support a personal decision. Do you think it was just blind faith on Abraham’s part? Is blind faith, faith?
Or does faith involve reflection and internal struggle, more so, relationship, which entails risk to move toward trust?
This deeper understanding of faith is weighty with substance because Abraham and Sarah have no previous track record with this God to fall back on.
There is no history of a presence walking with them, of forgiveness and embrace, of leading out of slavery, of providing the basics of food, of graciousness, of punishment and salvation as we have seen in the life of the patriarchs and prophets, to Israel down to Mary and Joseph, Peter and the disciples.
Rather Abraham and Sarah’s faith consists of entering a relationship with an unseen God. And as with all relationships they take on the risk of expectations and responsibilities, the ebb and flow; the dance if you will, of a maturing trust.
By faith…because of risking a trusting relationship, Abraham obeyed when he was called to move…
By faith…because of risking a trusting relationship, he traveled, not knowing where he was going…
By faith…because of risking a trusting relationship, Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, Isaac…
In all these situations of Abraham and Sarah’s lives the future is unseen yet accepted, all that remains is trust and questions: “What will a move bring?” “I will be a foreigner, a migrant, a stranger and will I be accepted?” “I don’t know where I am going in life?” “My child, what will happen to them?” All very human questions infused with the presence of God drawing us into a trusting relationship.
The current Polish movie, “The Innocents”, which relates the story of a convent of nuns raped and impregnated by Russian soldiers during World War II offers insight. An exchange between Mathilde, a French medic, raised in a working-class Communist family and Sister Maria, the convent’s Prioress speak to an abiding faith in the many hours of life’s doubts and struggles. Sister Maria reveals, “Faith is like walking hand in hand with your father and inevitably the hand let’s go…and that’s when it begins.”