AUGUST 7TH, 2016: NINETEENTH SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
The night of the passover was known beforehand to our fathers,
that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith,
they might have courage.
Your people awaited the salvation of the just
and the destruction of their foes.
For when you punished our adversaries,
in this you glorified us whom you had summoned.
For in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice
and putting into effect with one accord the divine institution.
Brothers and sisters:
Faith is the realization of what is hoped for
and evidence of things not seen.
Because of it the ancients were well attested.
By 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.
By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country,
dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise;
for he was looking forward to the city with foundations,
whose architect and maker is God.
By faith he received power to generate,
even though he was past the normal age
—and Sarah herself was sterile—
for he thought that the one who had made the promise was
So it was that there came forth from one man,
himself as good as dead,
descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky
and as countless as the sands on the seashore.
All these died in faith.
They did not receive what had been promised
but saw it and greeted it from afar
and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth,
for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.
If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come,
they would have had opportunity to return.
But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.
Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God,
for he has prepared a city for them.
By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac,
and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son,
of whom it was said,
“Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.”
He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead,
and he received Isaac back as a symbol.
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not be afraid any longer, little flock,
for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.
Sell your belongings and give alms.
Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out,
an inexhaustible treasure in heaven
that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.
For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.
“Gird your loins and light your lamps
and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding,
ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.
Blessed are those servants
whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.
Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself,
have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.
And should he come in the second or third watch
and find them prepared in this way,
blessed are those servants.
Be sure of this:
if the master of the house had known the hour
when the thief was coming,
he would not have let his house be broken into.
You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect,
the Son of Man will come.”
Then Peter said,
“Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?”
And the Lord replied,
“Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward
whom the master will put in charge of his servants
to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?
Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.
Truly, I say to you, the master will put the servant
in charge of all his property.
But if that servant says to himself,
‘My master is delayed in coming,’
and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants,
to eat and drink and get drunk,
then that servant’s master will come
on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour
and will punish the servant severely
and assign him a place with the unfaithful.
That servant who knew his master’s will
but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will
shall be beaten severely;
and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will
but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating
shall be beaten only lightly.
Much will be required of the person entrusted with much,
and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
Practically nothing in Scripture was written by eyewitness – not even our gospels.
Only after years, or even centuries of reflecting on God’s actions in their lives did our sacred authors eventually compose the writings that make up our Sacred Scriptures. Though many of the people involved in their narratives seemed to understand the implications of those divine actions as they were actually taking place, scholars constantly remind us that such insights most probably didn’t become part of their faith lives until far down the road. Even today we often catch ourselves saying, “I didn’t notice it at the time, but . . . .”
One need only Google Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons’ famous “Invisible Gorilla” experiment to see how easy it is to miss things that happen right before our eyes. The two professors demonstrated that our eyes normally see only what our minds program them to see. If we’re not expecting it, we usually don’t see it. On a practical level, experts tell us that’s why motorcycles are so frequently involved in highway accidents. Drivers of cars are geared to see other cars, not motorcycles. Based on that insight, yard signs have recently appeared in our area encouraging us to “Watch Out For Motorcycles!’
On a Scriptural level, that also seems why we have today’s three liturgical readings. Our sacred authors are concerned that we not only discover what happened to them, but that we also are prepared to discover those same things and events happening in our own lives. If we’re not prepared to have them take place, we’ll rarely notice them taking place.
Our Wisdom author is convinced that only those enslaved Israelites who were anticipating Yahweh to destroy their foes actually interpreted the Exodus correctly. Historically, according to the Exodus author, the majority of Jews in Egypt argued against Moses. What turned out to be the greatest saving event in Jewish history started as a huge aggravation. Especially the Torah’s Yahwistic author reminds us of the people’s constant “griping.” They’d have been more content eating watermelon as slaves along the Nile than crossing the Reed Sea as free people. What a chosen few saw, most ignored.
The author of Hebrews wants to make certain such blindness never happens to Jesus’ followers. So he constantly hammers away at Abraham and Sarah’s faith. Presuming they’re the first Jews, they don’t have Yahweh’s track record to fall back on. Only their faith helps them see Yahweh’s hand in the daily events of their life. They didn’t emigrate from Ur to Canaan, for instance, simply to acquire more food in a foreign land, but because Yahweh had a unique plan for them and their descendants. Likewise they didn’t engage in intimate relations because of any physical attraction but because that was an essential part of God providing them with an heir. Our sacred authors are convinced that faith enables us to notice what others ignore.
That seems to be why Luke’s Jesus wants us to be certain about where our “treasure” is located. Those who consistently “sell their belongings and give alms” will also be the ones who are consistently prepared to notice the risen Jesus present in their lives. Those who focus on caring for the needs of others will also be focusing on experiencing God’s kingdom in their midst. The historical Jesus presumed his followers would see what he chose to see during his earthly ministry. That was the only way they would be his faithful and prudent stewards.
Perhaps it would be more faith effective to replace some of our elaborate church decorations with simple yard signs reading, “Watch For God Working In Your Lives!”