God will lead us out of the darkness

  • July 28, 2010
19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Aug. 8 (Wisdom 18:6-9; Psalm 33; Hebrews 11:1-2; 8-19; Luke 12:32-48)

What did they know and when did they know it? This old legal question from the Watergate era can also be applied to Wisdom’s retelling of the Exodus story. We are given to believe that the Israelites knew beforehand exactly what was going to transpire. They knew God’s plan, the impending destruction of the Egyptians, as well as their imminent deliverance. But this does not square with the Exodus account itself, and indeed Wisdom is a theological reinterpretation of Exodus written over a thousand years after the event. It also does not explain Israel’s infidelity and lack of faith in the wilderness immediately after their escape.

Most of the time momentous events catch us by surprise. We may have an inkling of events to come and we might even have predicted them, but they often arrive suddenly and with a sense of shock. For example, although many had predicted the eventual fall of communist regimes throughout the Soviet bloc, the rapid cascade of collapsing regimes in 1989 was stunning and hard to believe. Only after the event does it seem obvious and inevitable.

We are not privileged with the direct line to the Almighty implied in Wisdom’s account, but we are blessed with faith and hope. These gifts enable us to know that God is up to something — we know that God is going to move in decisive ways for our benefit even if we are in the dark on the details. We do not need to be privy to God’s plans to band together as people of faith to celebrate joyfully the goodness and fidelity of God.

Faith is not blind and stubborn belief in things that are nonsensical and unlikely. Neither is it naive optimism or a flight from reality. The words from Hebrews are well chosen: it is an assurance, an inner intuitive sense, that the hope in one’s heart is going to be realized in some wonderful but unknown way. Although the object of this hope is yet unseen, the tremors and rustlings of its approach are already perceptible to those who wait in faith. Faith is another way of sensing and knowing the divine presence and activity in even the unlikeliest of places. Fear, doubt and despair fuel much of the negativity in our world whether it be the economy, politics, the stock market or relations between peoples and nations. In many respects our human systems seem to be broken or unable to deliver the goods. The frustration level rises as people seem to be prisoners of forces beyond their control and unable to mould the present or future. Hoping for a world of justice and peace is merely the first step in the path out of this darkness. We must also believe that this represents God’s desire and that God’s Spirit is at work in the world to realize that goal. And we must be open and willing to be led by that Spirit.

How do we behave when we think that no one is looking — or when authority and sanctions are absent? Some view these situations as a free pass for corruption or cruelty. In this passage from Luke and many others like it, the author struggles to maintain the spiritual commitment and fervour of his community. Disappointed by the delay in the return of Jesus, many are becoming morally and spiritually lax. The extended parable illustrates the importance of using the time we have wisely. Anyone can clean up their act and put everything in order if they know when the inspector is coming. But the moment of truth is always sudden and unannounced. Like an absent teacher returning suddenly to an unruly classroom, the Lord’s return will catch us as we really are.

Luke’s generation expected the imminent return of Jesus but after a delay of two millennia we no longer live with such a sense of immediacy or urgency. It may appear that we have more breathing room, but it is an illusion. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, only the present moment. Life can end at any time and when we least expect it. Living each day with a grateful awareness that it is a precious gift will help us live a rich and fruitful life in God.

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