True faith is not blind

  • July 26, 2007
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C), Aug. 12 (Wisdom 18:6-9; Psalm 33; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48)

What did the Israelites know and when did they know it? The book of Wisdom is a late interpretation of Israel’s foundation myth and it leaves one with the impression that the Israelites had God’s master plan tucked under their arm all along. In real life, things are seldom that clear or simple.
Documentaries and movies about the Second World War sometimes portray the war’s outcome as a foregone conclusion. In the darkest days of the war, however, the jury was still out. The Israelites knew that God had promised to free them. After the fact, they could look back and attribute everything that happened to the hand of God.

But that raises some problems. First of all, the Old Testament admits that the deliverance by God was soon forgotten. The Israelites complained bitterly against God and Moses in the wilderness and even fell into idolatry. Secondly, the passage insists that God is the one who destroyed the Egyptians. The chapter from which it was taken describes gleefully the slaying of the firstborn of Egypt and portrays the agent of destruction as God’s Word leapt down from heaven. However much we would like to think so, God is not in the business of destroying our enemies. Nor does God glorify one group at the expense of another.

God gets much of the credit or blame — depending on your point of view — for human injustice and violence. It would be better to say that God gave the Israelites the courage and self-respect to rise above their condition of bondage and oppression.

We often hear the expression “blind faith.” True faith — as distinguished from obstinate belief — is not blind at all. Faith is another form of knowing, a deep interior conviction that goes beyond the external evidence. It is an intuitive grasp of something in the mind and heart of God.

According to Hebrews, Abraham did not know where he was going. But this is very different from aimless wandering. On another level, he knew exactly where he was going: wherever God took him. This conviction enabled him to leave behind everything that was familiar and secure.

Individual believers are certainly called to a trusting relationship with a guiding higher power, but so is the church as a whole. Being willing to let go of what we perceive to be certainties, as well as control, might free us more to walk in the ways of God. This is one of the reasons why the church has always flourished in times of persecution and insecurity — it forces us to rely solely on God. It’s a pity that such drastic lessons are necessary.

What happens when the Lord doesn’t come? These and similar parables in the New Testament were written late in the first century to encourage the Christian communities. Many had become disillusioned and moral or spiritual laxity had become a problem. If the Lord is not going to come soon, what’s the point? The point is that we never know when it is going to occur and it doesn’t matter.

We are given time and opportunity not only to grow in personal holiness but to transform the world in which we live. It’s easy to be faithful and diligent while under pressure and with a cosmic deadline looming on the horizon. How we deal with the passage of time is what separates those who are serious spiritually from those just along for the ride.

Were the Lord to return tomorrow, He would ask some difficult questions, and “being saved” is not enough. Have you renounced violence and war as a way of settling differences? Have you built a just and equitable economic order for all the peoples of the earth? Have you taken care of the created world? Have you cleansed your societies of nationalism and racial bigotry? Have you given women their rightful equal role in society? Have you rid yourselves of religious bigotry and triumphalism?

There are many ways in which the Lord comes again. In fact, the Lord has come many times — in the disguise of the poor and suffering and the conditions of our world. If we cannot or will not see Him there, how can we expect to find Him in any other time or place? The only time that matters is the present — let us use it wisely.