Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading Wisdom of Solomon 18:6–9
Psalm Psalm 33:1, 12, 18–19, 20–22
Second Reading Hebrews 11:1–2, 8–19
Gospel Luke 12:32–48
Psalm 33:1, 12, 18–19, 20–22
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous.
Praise befits the upright.
Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people whom he has chosen as his heritage.
Truly the eye of the Lordis on those who fear him,
on those who hope in his steadfast love,
to deliver their soul from death,
and to keep them alive in famine.
Our soul waits for the Lord;
he is our help and shield.
Our heart is glad in him,
because we trust in his holy name.
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us,
even as we hope in you.
Reading the Word
Wisdom of Solomon 18:6–9
That night was made known beforehand to our ancestors,
so that they might rejoice in sure knowledge of the oaths in which they trusted.
The deliverance of the righteous and the destruction of their enemies
were expected by your people.
For by the same means by which you punished our enemies
you called us to yourself and glorified us.
For in secret the holy children of good people offered sacrifices,
and with one accord agreed to the divine law,
so that the saints would share alike the same things,
both blessings and dangers;
and already they were singing the praises of the ancestors.
Hebrews 11:1–2, 8–19
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval.
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. By faith he received power of procreation, even though he was too old—and Sarah herself was barren—because he considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.”
All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer up his only son, of whom he had been told, “It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.” He considered the fact that God is able even to raise someone from the dead—and figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.
“But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.
Hearing the Word
“The Meaning of Faith”
The word “faith” is one of the most frequently occurring terms in the Bible and in the Church. However, its true meaning is often obscured by limited or distorted understanding. Today’s readings address this problem, and illustrate what faith truly means.
The first reading from the book of Wisdom recalls the night when the Israelites left Egypt during the Exodus. The author states that the spectacular events of “that night” had been made known beforehand to the Israelites, so that they wait for that moment, rejoicing in the knowledge of what awaits them. The author stresses that “they trusted” in God’s plan and that “his oath” would come true. History proved them right.
This brief introductory statement reveals an essential element of true faith. Leaving Egypt, the Israelites took a tremendous risk. The Egyptians were powerful, and not about to willingly let their slaves go free. If God’s plan should fail, the Israelites risked death at the hands of their vengeful masters. Therefore, trusting in the reliability of God’s promises and acting on them, the Israelites demonstrated true faith. They trusted God to the extent of leaving the uncomfortable but relatively secure environment of Egypt, risking their lives, and following God into the unknown.
The second reading comes from the part of the letter to the Hebrews which deals exclusively with faith. It begins with the only systematic definition of faith found in the Bible – “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” According to this definition, faith is the trust that what one hopes for, and which is not yet seen, will surely come true. This definition is supported by a series of personal examples of the heroes of faith, ranging from Abel to the Maccabean martyrs (cf. Heb 11:2-40).
The greatest example and illustration of faith cited by the author of Hebrews, is Abraham. God promised Abraham a land of his own. Trusting this promise, Abraham leaves his homeland and, like the Israelites during the Exodus, takes the risk of going into the unknown: without knowing where he was going, and how God’s promise would come true. Once in the land of Canaan, living in a tent as a nomad, he holds on to the hope that this land would permanently belong to his descendants. The author interprets this hope as Abrahams’ far reaching anticipation of the heavenly city, Jerusalem, a symbol of eternal life (cf. Heb 12:22). Furthermore, Abraham and his wife Sarah had no children. And yet God promised Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars of heaven. Abraham never ceased to trust that this promise would eventually come true. It did, and Abraham’s descendants became the great and numerous people of Israel.
However, the ultimate test of faith came when God demanded of Abraham the sacrifice of his only son and the child of the promise, Isaac. This was not a test of obedience but a test of trust. Abraham was asked to demonstrate his trust in God to the point of letting go of what was the promise’s apparent fulfilment – his only son. Was God contradicting himself by giving him a son and then asking that the child be returned to God through sacrifice? Abraham surely did not understand God’s demand, but he kept on trusting God, and acted in accordance with God’s command. Because of Abraham’s trust and confidence in God, Isaac was given back to him. God kept his promise.
The author of Hebrews uses this final example of trust in the face of death as a model for Christian faith, which finds its fullest expression in the hope of the resurrection. Believers who maintain their trust in God’s promise of eternal life, even in the face of inevitable death, manifest Abraham-like faith; they live in the assurance of something not yet seen. This assurance shapes their life on earth, where they live as strangers and migrants waiting to go home.
The gospel story further illustrates the meaning of faith. Jesus begins his teaching by calling on his “little flock” not to be afraid. This designation and exhortation imply that the disciples are only a small minority amidst a large and often hostile world. They are like “lambs among wolves” (cf. Lk 10:3). However, Jesus assures them that they have a glorious future ahead of them, because their Father, God, decided to give them a kingdom. Despite being little, insignificant and afflicted now, their destiny is eternal life in God’s presence. The disciples are called to trust in this promise and shape their life in the present world accordingly.
The first expression of this trust is the disciples’ attitude to material wealth. According to this Gospel, each person has a fundamental choice to make – either to trust wealth and seek security in possessions, or trust God and seek security in faith. The first option ties a person to this passing world and is, therefore, a foolish choice, for this world passes away. The second option guarantees eternal life, and is, therefore, a wise choice. Naturally, only God can be trusted, as the giver of a true and permanent life. Such a life is the treasure which the disciples ought to seek wholeheartedly.
The second expression of faith is vigilance, exemplified by the servants waiting for their master’s return. Those waiting for the master’s return symbolize Christians waiting for the return of Jesus. Such vigilance ensures that the anxieties and concerns of daily life do not overshadow the disciples’ commitment to Jesus and his teaching, and does not allow the disciples to lose sight of their true heavenly destiny.
The final expression of trust in God’s promise is the life of service, illustrated by examples of the two managers. One is faithful to his task and receives an appropriate reward. The other fails in his task because he can not sustain his commitment to the master over a long time. Swayed by the allure of wealth and pleasure, the unfaithful manger abandoned his task of serving and lost everything as a result.
Luketeaches that true faith manifests itself in vigilant waiting for Jesus, and in faithful service. Such trust in a heavenly life does not take believers out of this world, but it gives them the right focus and perspectiveon, and in, this present world. True faith looks to the distant future, but it has a decisive impact on the present.
Today’s readings teach that faith is not a theoretical acceptance of some abstract belief. Rather, true faith exerts a profound and very concrete influence on the daily life of believers. The Israelites trusted God and, following his guidance, left Egypt to eventually live as free people in their own land. Abraham trusted God and made life-changing decisions that made him the forefather of a great nation. Jesus asked his followers to trust God’s promise of eternal life and live vigilant lives of service, free from the domination of greed. These biblical examples show that true faith consists in a life-shaping trust in, and reliance, on God and his promises, which enables believers to live wisely in the present, on the basis of a reliable knowledge about the future. The Psalmist expressed this essence of faith well in the words, “oursoul waits for the Lord; he is our help and shield.”
Listening to the Word of God
Every morning, he would brush the teeth of his wife, bath and feed her. Every evening, he would sit by her, hold her hands and tell her stories that would make her laugh even in her pain. He would sing her favourite songs and tell her how beautiful she is. Although they had employed the services of a homecare giver, he still felt there were certain services that he alone must offer to the wife.
They had been married only for a few years when the wife had an accident and became paralysed. I was curious to know what kept spurring him on to stick to his sick wife, in spite of the calls from friends and relatives to get a new mistress. He said to me: “On the day of our marriage, I looked into the eyes of my wife and made a solemn promise to love and honour her all the days of my life. I meant every word I said and now I am fulfilling my promise.” I was touched by that display of love and faithfulness – faithfulness, not just in good times, but most importantly in bad times.
A faithful person is one who is full of faith and worthy of trust. Such a person is unfazed by the changing scenes of life. There is an African proverb which says: “The scorching heat does not change the colour of a leopard.” An authentic faith is not subject to change when circumstances change. Faithfulness to the Lord entails carrying out to the very end the task he has entrusted to us.
A common song often sung in small Christian communities in English-speaking West Africa has the lyrics: “I have decided to follow Jesus…No turning back.” Faith is a decision not to turn back even when things are not going as one anticipates.
The word for faith among the Akans of Ghana is “gyidi”, which literally means ‘take and eat.’ One would generally take and eat something in an atmosphere of trust. Even if it tastes bitter in one’s mouth, trust makes one able to masticate it, convinced of its ultimate goodness. When we have faith in God, we too will take and eat his word, irrespective of how we feel in any given situation.
It took faith for Abraham to leave behind a familiar background and start a journey holding on to the word of God, and it took him even greater faith to sustain that decision he had made. It took faith in the word of God for the Israelites to get out of Egypt, and it took them an even greater faith to reach Canaan.
To follow Jesus is not a call to lie on a bed of roses, but to walk on the rough road that leads to holiness. The trials and temptations of the journey often deflate our ego and many give up. Perhaps, rather than throwing in the towel, we may consider nourishing the little faith left in our hearts. Where there is faith, all things are possible.
“The scorching heat does not change the colour of a leopard”.
How deep is my faith in God? Am I able to hold on to the promise of God when things go wrong in my life?
When was the last time I actively chose to do something challenging and difficult because of my faith and trust in Jesus?
Response to God
In the spirit of prayer, I renew my baptismal promises and profess my faith in God.
Response to your World
My faith needs to be practiced in order to increase. I will choose one concrete way to make that happen.
How can we as a group teach others about the true meaning of faith as revealed in today’s liturgy?
Lord Jesus, I am weak but you are strong. Help me to hold on to you by faith as I climb the steep path of life. Amen.
Scripture quotations from New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, © 1989, 1993. Used with permission.