CNS photo/Debbie Hill

Abraham’s leap of faith bore much fruit

  • December 18, 2014

Holy Family (Year B) Dec. 28 (Genesis 15:1-6; 17:3b-5, 15-16; 21:1-7; Psalm 105; Hebrews 11:8, 11-12, 17-19; Luke 2:22-40)

Even though Abraham is our father in faith because he trusted in God, that faith was sorely tested. Abraham had left everything behind — his land, kin and security — and became a wanderer, going wherever God led him.

As part of the pact that God and Abraham made, God promised to give him land and offspring. The years sped by, interspersed with many adventures and challenges, but still no child. The biological clock was ticking, and both Abraham and Sarah began to panic. Only those who have struggled unsuccessfully to have children can fully understand their feelings and empathize with them. It was all the more urgent and poignant because the people of the ancient near east did not believe in immortality in our sense of the word. One lived on through one’s descendants, and to die childless was in effect to be snuffed out. Abraham and Sarah took matters into their own hands and resorted to an ancient form of surrogate motherhood through Hagar the slave-girl. But God made it very clear that this was not part of the plan. Abraham would be the father of many nations and his descendants would be more numerous than the stars or the grains of sand on the seashore. But it would only be accomplished in God’s time and in God’s way. Once again, Abraham believed God, and that is what counted for righteousness in an age before the giving of the Law or the formation of Israel.

The theme of barrenness and divine intervention is a thread running throughout the Scriptures. It will appear again in the story of Samson in the Book of Judges, Hannah and the birth of Samuel in 2 Samuel, and of course in the New Testament with the story of Elizabeth and Mary. The Scriptural message is profound: our faith today has an impact on countless generations in the future. When we allow God to guide our lives and to direct world history, the outcomes are beyond what we can imagine. Faith in the form of absolute trust in God and openness to God’s will is the instrument that God uses to fashion the world in the divine image. Do we have the patience and commitment to be that instrument? Fortunately for us, there were key individuals who did, but the work is not finished.

The story of Abraham was the founding narrative of Judaism. Later on it would also be part of Christianity’s narrative. The author of Hebrews stressed Abraham’s faith as well as Sarah’s and their trust in the work of God even when ordinary common sense told them that it was futile. We often talk and reason our way out of the miraculous but they were made of stronger stuff. It is interesting that Abraham did not know where he was going. Some of the Church Fathers saw this as one of the distinguishing marks of one called by God. It is a real leap of faith for us to continue moving forward without knowing exactly where we are headed, but our willingness to do so will bear much fruit.

Simeon and Anna were people who trusted in God. They waited patiently, praying in the temple daily, but not quite sure exactly what they were waiting for. They knew that it would be revealed to them at the right moment, and that moment arrived when Joseph and Mary brought Jesus into the temple for the prescribed offerings and the presentation of the child to God. Their whole lives had been moving towards this moment, and they had been responsive to the promptings of the Spirit. They were in the right place at the right time and were therefore able to gaze upon Israel’s Saviour.

When Simeon praised God and blessed the child, as far as he was concerned his life was over — mission accomplished. Anna was also able to bear witness to Jesus as the expected one and to praise God. Two epochs in humanity’s salvation history were linked that day in the temple. Israel and the Church are partners in God’s plan of human redemption. Both Simeon and Anna were willing and able to play small, quiet, but incredibly significant roles in the unfolding drama of God and humanity. What roles do we play, and do we walk each day in faith?

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