Hebrews 11: 1-2, 8-19; Luke 12: 32-48
If you watched any of the Opening Ceremony at the Rio Olympics this week, you know one of the most impressive parts is the parade of athletes from all around the world. It’s the one time where the best of the best gather every four years. Although we’ve made it so much into winning and losing, as we do life, the ideal remains the same that the greatest honor is just having been chosen to participate. I was struck by one young man walking in who was just trying to hold back tears. He may never win anything, but he was chosen to participate and accepted that invitation.
I thought of that image when I read this second reading we hear today from the writer of Hebrews. Actually, it is probably worth a second or third reading for all of us it is so well crafted. This chapter in the Letter is often referred to as the Roll Call of the Heroes of Faith. In many ways, it’s the writers own version of the parade of athletes at the Olympics. It’s the best of the best of these iconic figures that have done something great by accepting their own invitation to something bigger than themselves, like those participating in the Olympics. However, one stark difference is that it isn’t only about participating in something bigger than themselves, it’s also a humility that this comes from some great depths within them and yet beyond them that is beyond explanation. It has nothing to do with athletic ability or anything like that. It has to do, as the writer tells us, about faith and a trust in that which we cannot see.
So we hear of two of the ancients today, Abraham and Sarah, whom we just heard about a few weeks ago with their own struggle to give birth to a child. Today the writer of Hebrews reflects on their lives and their uncanny ability to trust and deepen their faith in something they can’t see, this great mystery that keeps leading them to places that are beyond their imagination. You see, we probably spend to much of our lives trying to trust everything we can see and hear, holding onto so many things that are tangible or make us feel secure but fear allowing ourselves to go to a deeper place, below the surface and learn to trust the power of the Spirit already present within us. It’s the only thing that can explain their lives and why they are our ancestors in faith and stand as witnesses not only to something bigger than themselves, but also deeper than they could ever imagine.
How else do you explain their sojourn in the promised land as in a foreign country, or at times hopelessly wandering, or this idea that somehow God should give them what they want in the birth of a child. None of it seems to happen in their lives. Yet, they never give up. There is always this desire for more within them that keeps them going, trusting that this God will provide. Maybe their prayers won’t be answered the way they want them to be or think they should be, but in the face of such adversity, they don’t turn away only continue to fall deeper into this mystery and trust in this love that is beyond explanation.
But the disciples aren’t there yet. They still are seeing with their eyes and hearing with their ears and have not moved below the surface. That’s really why Peter even asks the question about whether what he is saying is meant for them. They can’t see a deeper meaning, or as Jesus says, where your heart is will be where you find your treasure. Until they can move to a place of trusting in what they can’t see it’s going to be hard to understand. Remember what it is that they are experiencing with political and religious authorities at that time where there was so much abuse of that power that so many feared them. They, of course, in turn feared Jesus because there was something different about him. Jesus, in some ways, in what seems to be a rather negative message, is trying to lead them to that deeper place. That’s not who they are to model their lives. It’s no different today. There remains corruption and mistrust in these authority figures because they so often don’t live from that interior place of faith and trust, in what we cannot see. It’s so often about the immediate and my own gratification that we don’t even allow ourselves to live into the adversities of our lives to learn to trust in something deeper and bigger.
At the same time, we learn from our own ancestors. We have a responsibility to the next generation and the generation after that, just as Abraham and Sarah did for their own. All of that impacts the way we live our lives. It doesn’t mean that it will look and sound the way it did for us. If it’s a living faith it can’t. But the heart of it remains eternal, our trust in this great mystery that is constantly calling us into the role call of heroes of faith. We mustn’t tell ourselves that it’s only for someone else. It’s the culture of blame and victimhood that we embrace all too often. This call is for all of us and all of us must model, as best we can, this faith into something bigger and yet deeper within ourselves. What do we do when we face such adversities in our own lives?
Maybe we can’t always understand Jesus and this call especially to take up the cross, but there are so many others in the roll call of heroes that show us the way. We understand unanswered prayers. We understand hurt, loneliness, and abandonment. We understand it all but when it comes our way, as it did for Abraham and Sarah, what are we going to do with it. They too show us the way on this pilgrim journey. When we allow ourselves to fall into it all, we find ourselves being suspended in mystery and learning to trust and deepen our faith so that like them we can be taken to the places that even seem unimaginable in our own lives.