Saturday, August 7, 2010

Not seeing is believing


Nine year old Joey was asked by his mother what he had learned in Sunday school. “Well, Mom, our teacher told us how God sent Moses behind enemy lines on a rescue mission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt. When he got to the Red Sea, he had his engineers build a pontoon bridge and all the people walked across safely. Then he used his walkie-talkie to radio headquarters for reinforcements. They sent bombers to blow up the bridge and all the Israelites were saved.” “Now, Joey, is that really what your teacher taught you?” his mother asked. “Well, no, Mom. But if I told it the way the teacher did, you'd never believe it!”

As we heard in our second reading today, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” We’ve all heard the phrase “seeing is believing.” This phrase suggests skepticism; it implies that we will not accept the truth of something unless we can somehow see it; unless it somehow makes sense to us. While the phrase may validly express a concern for verification, it contradicts basic religious ideas. To paraphrase what we heard from the Letter to the Hebrews today, “Not-seeing is believing.” In other words, we do not believe what we see; rather, as people of faith, we believe what we do not see. Confusing? Yes, but this is the heart of real faith.

The Letter to the Hebrews gives us Abraham as a perfect example of such faith. Without knowing exactly what he would find as he followed the inspiration of God, Abraham left his home of origin and journeyed through a foreign land. Abraham did not see, yet he believed. He clung to God’s promise of descendants, even though, to him, having children seemed an impossibility for he was such an old man. He did not see, yet he believed.

The Gospel also gives us a message about the need to cling to faith even when its fulfillment seems far off. Jesus exhorts His followers to be steadfast in their faith, and He provides a story about the servants entrusted with the management of the household. No one knew when the master would return, so a wise servant will be vigilant, since the master could return at any moment. The wise servant does not see, yet he believes.

We may also experience some of these challenges of faith in our own life. How many of us have asked the question “why” in the face of losing a loved one too young, or too soon? How many of us have scratched our heads trying to understand things like the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives; or the Transubstantiation that takes place at every Mass changing ordinary bread and wine into the very Body and Blood of Jesus? We know the challenge of believing what cannot be seen.

So if our faith is not based on what is seen, then what is it based on? Well, very simply, our faith is not based on what we see or don’t see; it is based on who we know – and we know the Lord. And it is this relationship of faith, implanted on the day of our Baptism, reaffirmed in the many ways that we are open to the presence of God in our lives; that is precisely what gives us the courage, the strength and the ability to believe in things that we cannot always see; to believe what our hearts tell us to be true – that our God is real; that our God is love; that our God wants to make Himself known in our lives over and over again.

Our faith is based on the trustworthiness of God, who has generously blessed us in the past. The author of the Book of Wisdom encouraged the people of his time by reminding them of how God had protected their ancestors as they escaped from Egyptian bondage. God’s faithfulness to Abraham is invoked here to strengthen the faith of the Christians to whom the Letter to the Hebrews was sent. And writing to his community of Christians, Luke recounts how Jesus instructed His followers to be steadfast in their faith in Him. God has never failed us, will never fail us – and on that our faith is based.

Like believers in the past, we too have been called to cling to the hope of a future that may seem uncertain. Like believers in the past, we too are expected to be steadfast in our faith. I think this is a timely message for all of us. Putting our faith in Jesus can change our perspective. We can see what really matters – not the material things we can verify with our eyes – but the true gifts of life that we can only verify with our hearts; gifts of love, family, friends, peace and our own deepening relationship with our loving God.

Our faith in things not seen tells us that our God will continue to be with us, our God will continue to be steadfast, our God will continue to lead us, guide us, and bind us together – in and through our faith. And that, my friends, is Good News. Although we do not now see, we too must believe.

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”

May God give us a strong faith and may God give us peace.

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