Live each day as if you were preparing to meet the Lord, writes Fr. Scott Lewis Graphic by David Chen

Genuine faith will guide us through the darkness

  • July 20, 2016

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) August 7 (Wisdom 18:6-9; Psalm 33; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48)

How do we navigate through life, keeping hope alive and persevering in the face of trials? The biblical tradition is consistent and clear — the righteous person lives by faith.

But what is faith? Faith is not assent to various doctrines or dogmas. One can be perfect in their theological belief but utterly devoid of faith. On the other hand, an individual can be lacking theological sophistication but have a deep and strong faith. Faith is radical trust in God’s goodness and guiding presence, even in the midst of trial and struggle. It is an inner form of knowing, based on a relationship of love and trust.

Wisdom recounts the history of Israel, but from the standpoint of the faith of the people. The people of Israel worshipped privately, even in their captivity, and agreed to whatever God asked. They knew — through faith — that they would be delivered by God from bondage even though outwardly it seemed unlikely. Though they would have to share the blessings and dangers of men and women of faith everywhere, they were able to sing the praises of all who had gone before them. They knew of the fidelity and love of God. We live in a messy world during very troubled times, and it is easy to wonder where God is in all this.

Unfortunately, many Christians do not stand up well under stress or struggle. We seem to have subtly bought into the mistaken idea that having faith means that all will go well, and in the way we want. Nothing could be farther from the truth — God promises grace, strength and divine companionship on the journey, not quick fixes or shortcuts. It is genuine faith rather than ideology or having all the answers that is going to guide us through the darkness into the light. We may not know the entire path we are travelling, but God will illuminate the way one step at a time.

Hebrews recounts the story of Abraham as the exemplar of faith. He believed or trusted God, although the covenant and the Law had not yet been given. It was trust that was based on a personal relationship. Abraham put his life in God’s hands. He had no idea where he was going — and from a practical point of view, his departure from his homeland to wander aimlessly made no sense. Hebrews famously declares that faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Abraham was driven by an inner vision, and intuitive grasp of the content of God’s promise. He could sense and feel the promise — to him it was very real. His willingness to risk all for that inner vision is why he is called the father of faith for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Our relationship with God needs less talk and more trust.

The first generation of Christian believers expected that the Lord would return very soon — within their lifetimes — and this would be followed by the final judgment. Fervour and commitment were very high — for a while. As time passed without the Lord’s return, however, it became increasingly difficult to maintain the same level of zeal and enthusiasm. Some began to doubt.

Maybe it’s foolish to remain faithful and zealous after such a long delay. We have plenty of time, what’s the big deal? The parables that we find in this Gospel passage all have the same theme. We don’t know when the Lord is going to return. That’s the point — if we did, we would be sure to be “good” at the appropriate time, but it would not be deep or sincere. The parables speak of those who use the delay for self-indulgence and abuse of others, thinking that they would never be called to account. The sudden return of the master bears a warning.

Do not be caught unawares — live each day as if you were preparing to meet the Lord. The date of His return does not matter, but being pleasing in His sight does. This is one of the ways in which we show our trust in God: how we respond to the gift of the time and opportunities to learn and to grow that we are given. The righteous are not perfect, but they live and walk in faith.