(See the readings for the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 11)
Navigation is an important science. Today we have global positioning systems that help us out a great deal. They can be found in cars, on bikes, and on our phones. The devices are small and easy to use. They tell us exactly where we are and how to get where we need to go.
Prior to computers and such devices people on land had to rely on roads, paths and signs for directions. On sea it was a different story all together.
On the sea there is nowhere to place a sign, there are no “land” marks, roads or paths. A ship, if it was not following the coast, had to rely on the stars and maps for directions. The navigator was an important officer on the crew because he had to keep the ship on course so they could safely arrive at its destination.
Life is frequently referred to as a journey. On a biological or physical level we are conceived, born, grow, develop and eventually die. On a spiritual level we too develop and grow. From conception to death, we encounter the love of God and are moved to respond to this love in faith. The journey is described as a pilgrimage of faith. Faith is our response to the love of God as we seek the course that will lead us closer to Him our destination in life.
Faith is that which gives us direction in life; it points us in the right direction like a navigator reading the stars. The Letter to the Hebrews states: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and the evidence of things not seen” (Heb 11:1). The author is exhorting his readers to have a strong faith in God. A faith that is so strong that the believer is convinced in God’s loving care for him or her.
In this particular passage Abraham is used as an example of someone with this type of faith. His faith directs his life and gives him life. It is a loving response to God’s call and promise. It is fidelity to the relationship. It is obedience to his call. Four times the expression “by faith” is used of Abraham. All four of these examples of Abraham’s faith are references from the Book of Genesis.
The first expression is “by faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance” (Heb 11:8; cf. Gen 12). God makes himself known to Abraham and calls him to leave his home in Mesopotamia to follow Him where he leads.
Abraham is called to leave everything that is comfortable to him. He is called to leave the security of home; to leave the comfort of the familiar; to leave the surrounding and the community he knows to travel to an unknown land, filled with strangers. He does not know what will be there for his family and household. Yet he trusts in the promise that the Lord will provide for him. He responds in faith and follows where the Lord leads.
The second is “by faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country” (Heb 11:9; cf. Gen 12). Abraham journeys to the land promised by the Lord but before he takes possession, he lives there as a foreigner. He lives as a stranger in this land among the peoples who live there already awaiting the fulfillment of the promise.
The example demonstrates that faith needs to have longevity and consistency. It is not something that is superficial or stagnant. It is an on-going response of trust in the Lord’s promise and care.
The third is “by faith he [Abraham] received power to generate” (Heb 11:11; cf. Gen 21). Similarly Abraham has to wait for the promise of an heir to be fulfilled. He waits for some time before Sarah conceives and bears Isaac. It is through Isaac that Abraham’s heirs will be as “numerous as the starts in the sky” (Gen 26:4).
Faith enables Abraham to believe and to trust even when the circumstances of life would suggest otherwise. Remember Abraham was an old man when Sarah conceived; and Sarah was thought to be barren, incapable of bearing children. Yet his faith was vindicated as Sarah did conceive and bear Isaac.
The fourth is “by faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac” (11:17; cf. Gen 22). This fourth example of Abraham’s faith is a climax. Isaac was the fulfillment of a promise, the longed-for child. He was the hope of Abraham for future descendants. He was the child he loved, his first-born and only child.
There probably was no test greater than what the Lord asked of Abraham, to sacrifice this beloved Son and all he represented. Saddened by the request Abraham nonetheless proceeds in faith and is prepared to offer Isaac as requested. We all know the story. This was a test of faith. The Angel stops Abraham as he was ready to make the offering. Surely, a great relief overcame Abraham as he was stopped. His willingness to offer Isaac who represents everything he loves, everything he has and everything for which he hopes is an act of faith. He surrenders himself in faith to and is convinced of God’s love, His wisdom and His care. The four examples give powerful witness to the faith of Abraham and his conviction of God’s providential care. Abraham is “our father in faith.”
Jesus calls us to faith. Often in the Gospel accounts we see faith manifest in the disciples. Jesus encourages this faith. He indeed personifies this faith and brings it to fulfillment. In today’s Gospel passage, Jesus speaks of our response to the Father’s invitation to life, which is expressed in terms of kingdom, treasure or household. He tells us not to fear life because we are precious in the eyes of God and leads us to life: “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”
Jesus urges us to see the life God offers as the most important treasure we have; a treasure that will not “wear out;” it will last forever. The rewards are great when we keep vigilant on the journey of life.
The parable of the servants awaiting the master’s return provides a powerful image of God’s loving care. Typically if the head of the household is away and then comes home to find the house in order he is grateful for the servant’s fidelity. They have fulfilled their responsibilities and so he is grateful.
Yet the image Jesus uses here is much more powerful. He is not only grateful, he actually has the servants sit at his table and he proceeds to serve them. He provides them with much more than they either expect or deserve. His graciousness is indeed great. Jesus continues the teaching by stressing vigilance.
The faithful servant is the one who is vigilant and lives in expectation of His master’s arrival. In other words, the servant who is vigilant lives his or her life by faith. Faith is central in their lives and all aspects of their lives are governed by it.
For many people today the journey of life and the pilgrimage of faith is a long one. There are many joys and sorrows, triumphs and challenges on the journey. We encounter many different signs along this journey telling us what to do, what is best for us, what will give us pleasure or happiness.
We want to be confident on the path we journey. We want to have joy on this pilgrimage. We want to experience the richness of life and all it offers. We want to get to our desired goal. With faith as our compass or navigator we can be sure that the journey will be safe, that the promise will be fulfilled and that we will reach our destination.
Msgr. Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.
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