Real faith is trusting in God no matter what

By  Fr. Scott Lewis S.J.
  • February 25, 2007
Second Sunday of Lent (Year C) March 4 (Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 9:28b-36)

The people of the ancient world took their covenants, contracts and promises very seriously. No need for dense legal language, for the agreement was sealed in blood, carcasses and curses. At the end of this account of God’s covenant with Abraham, he is promised land — very specific land, where other people are already dwelling — and he is promised this land in perpetuity. 

Much of the violence in the Middle East that we experience in our own time is linked in some way to the interpretation of this promise. Is God’s promise about real estate or something else? The Israelites believed that immortality was achieved through one’s descendants. To be childless and without descendants was not a situation that anyone wanted to be in. God promised Abraham roots, a place to live, survival and posterity. In the ancient world, this blessing was best achieved through the bestowal of land. He is insuring him that his descendants will be a cohesive people and a source of blessing for the world. And God is assuring Abraham that his life counts, for he will have an effect on millions of people who have not even been born.

What a wonderful blessing — most of us would be quite happy to just make a modest contribution to the community and to the world. But there is a catch to this promise. Abraham will have to trust God absolutely and believe that God is reliable even when things don’t appear that way. That is what real faith is — not doctrinal belief, but trust. Abraham’s virtue is not that he believed in God — many do that — but that he believed God and acted accordingly. The focus should be on God’s blessing, not the particular form that it takes, which can change through time. To tie it to a specific piece of land, especially when it involves injustice towards others, is really draining the blessing of its beauty and power. Abraham is the spiritual ancestor of Jews, Christians and Muslims. All who respond to God with faith — which includes living a life of justice and compassion — are His descendants.

What does it mean to be an enemy of the cross of Christ? Quite simply, it means to live one’s life as if Jesus had not died on the cross. A person who lives in this manner has not really received the full message of the life, ministry and death of Jesus into his or her heart. Jesus might be an object of belief or worship, and they might consider themselves religious people. But their everyday life gives the lie to their claims. When compassion, justice, mercy, truthfulness, generosity, courage and faith are lacking — and not recognized as lacking — it really doesn’t matter what we claim to believe.

There are no shortcuts or easy paths to God regardless of what some may claim. Paul exhorts his community to live as if they were citizens of heaven. This does not mean turning away from the problems or concerns of our world. It is living in the here and now as if we are already in God’s presence. 

A warning of this “practical atheism” can be found in Luke’s account of the Transfiguration. The apostles who are with Jesus are dazzled and overwhelmed by the power, light and awesomeness of the experience on the mountain top. Jesus — talking with Moses and Elijah — just imagine! They want to freeze-frame the scene like a video camera — let’s build shrines or places of worship to commemorate the holiness of this experience. Let’s see how long we can string it along and draw strength and inspiration from it. But the divine voice from the cloud has other ideas: This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to Him!

In biblical language, to listen means to believe, obey and follow. The admonition seems clear: Don’t allow the message and mission of Jesus to crystallize and petrify into a religion. Keep it dynamic, alive and transforming. And remember: it involves struggle and sacrifice. For Jesus, this moment of glory and power is linked with the road to Jerusalem and His own suffering and death. Our power and glory is linked with meeting the world’s challenges with love, dignity, faith, commitment and generosity.