19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. Wisdom 18:6-9; Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19; Luke 12:32-48.
AIM: To deepen the hearers= faith.
AFaith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.@ This definition of faith in our second reading is unusual for the Bible. The Bible is not fond of definitions. It prefers examples. Immediately following this definition of faith, therefore, that second reading gives us an example: Abraham. ABy faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.@ Abraham trusted, however, that God knew. Meanwhile, the second reading tells us, Abraham dwelt Ain tents.@ A tent is a temporary dwelling. Its occupant can take it down and move on. Abraham=s nomad life shows us, the second reading says, that Ahe was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.@
Abraham could obey God=s call, to abandon security and venture into an unknown future, because he trusted God, who gave him the call. That is faith=s fundamental meaning: personal trust. Faith in this sense is not something learned once and for all, as we learn the alphabet or the multiplication table, or how to ride a bicycle. Faith is developed only through time. It must be constantly nourished. That is why we come here week by week: so that our loving trust in our heavenly Father, in Jesus his Son, and in the Holy Spirit, may be renewed and nourished at the twin tables of word and sacrament.
In the gospel reading Jesus tells us to live by faith; to hold on, like Abraham in our second reading, to Athe evidence of things not seen.@ ABe like servants who await their master=s return from a wedding,@ Jesus says, Aready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.@
In the gospel reading Jesus contrasts this attitude of faith-filled readiness with that of the unfaithful servant who says, AMy master is delayed in coming.@ Behind those words lies the thought: >Maybe he=s not coming at all.= Then this unfaithful servant forgets that he has been entrusted with responsibility, and begins to act as if he were the master himself, abusing his fellow servants and breaking into his absent employer=s wine cellar to stage wild parties for his free-loading friends.
The unfaithful servant=s words, AMy master is delayed in coming,@ had special meaning for the community for which Luke wrote his gospel. They believed that Jesus was going to return very soon, within the lifetime of some of them at least. As time went on and the Lord did not return, many in Luke=s community were tempted to say: >The Lord is delayed in coming. Maybe he=s not coming at all.=
Jesus= story warns them not to yield to such thoughts; not to forget that they are servants who, one day, will have to give an account of their service. People who live as if there will never be an accounting have broken faith, Jesus warns. They have abandoned what our second reading calls Athe realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.@ For such faithless servants the day of reckoning will be unexpected, and painful. AThat servant=s master will come,@ Jesus says, Aon an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant severely.@
That failure of faith is always a temptation for the Church, and for each of us who are the Church. We yield to this temptation when we use the blessings that God gives us through his Church solely for ourselves, for our own spiritual comfort and profit. That is why the Church is, and always must be, a missionary Church. Our wonderful Pope Francis reminds us of this often. We can=t keep God=s gifts unless we give them away. And when we do give them away, handing on to others the faith God has given us, we don=t become poorer. We grow richer. In passing on our faith to others, our own faith is deepened and strengthened.
Faced with the temptation to forget that we are servants and not masters, we need to pray that God=s Holy Spirit will preserve our realization of what we hope for, and help us hold on to the evidence of things not seen. Only with the Spirit=s help can we remember that we may be summoned at any time to give an accounting of how we have used the Lord=s gifts. Have we kept them for ourselves? Or have we shared them generously with others?
Keeping faith and remembering that we are servants and not masters also means preserving Abraham=s readiness to move on, whenever God calls, abandoning what is familiar and secure, and trusting solely in God. Whenever in its 2000-year history the Church has forgotten its role as God=s servant; whenever the Church has settled in too comfortably and accumulated too much worldly power, prestige, and wealth, it has become inwardly flabby and spiritually sick. To find an example of this we need look no farther than the recent history of the Catholic Church in our own country.
What is true of the Church is true also of each of us, the Church=s members. We are servants: servants of the Lord, and servants too of our sisters and brothers. And we are people on a journey: nomads like Abraham and, like him, pilgrims underway (to quote our second reading a final time) Ato the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God@ B pitching our tents each evening, as we lie down to rest for the next day=s journey, a day=s march nearer home.