At a climatic moment in the musical Fiddler on the Roof, Tevye, the main character, has had it with God. Not only is he experiencing huge family problems, but the Russian authorities are about to expel him and his fellow Jews from their village of Anatevka. Looking up to heaven, he asks, “Why don’t you choose some other people for a change?” Being one of the Chosen People didn’t always provide a lot of perks.
Tevye’s question made me reflect on some of my own childhood questions. Though convinced my Catholic faith was the one, true faith, I’d still look at my non-Catholic cousins and playmates and think, “They don’t have to give up meat on Friday, never have to go to confession, don’t commit a mortal sin if they sleep in on Sunday mornings. Why couldn’t I have been born a Protestant instead of a Catholic?”
I presume everyone of faith has entertained similar daydreams and wishes. What should be a special privilege often turns out to be a humongous burden.
Luke’s Jesus presents us with a different twist on the subject. He ends today’s narrative on preparedness by stating, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” Instead of looking at his (and our) faith as a burden, he regards it to be a trust; something we’re expected to carry through on because God has faith in us.
At the end of James Michener’s Korean War epic The Bridges at Toko-ri, the carrier fleet commander reflects on the motivation and bravery of his pilots. “Where do we get such men?” he asks. “They leave their ship and they do their job. Then they have to find this speck lost in the sea. And when they find it, they have to land on its pitching deck. Where do we get such men?”
I’m certain both the author of Hebrews and Luke could ask a similar question about the faithful in their communities. From where does the motivation come that inspires certain people to live total lives of faith?
The Hebrews author encourages his readers to explore the historical roots of their faith, taking them, like our Wisdom writer, into the days of the Jewish patriarchs and matriarchs. In so doing, he provides us with the famous definition, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Had our faith ancestors not taken such risks, we wouldn’t have the faith we share today.
We’re certainly called to take similar risks. Luke’s Jesus is addressing all his followers - not just religious men and women - when he says, “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 or moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.”
Of course, Jesus is convinced his followers won’t have to wait until their physical deaths to unite with their treasure. Notice how today’s pericope begins. “Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.”
In the first three gospels, when Jesus speaks about the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven, he’s not referring to the place we’re planning to inhabit after death. He’s speaking about God working effectively in our lives right here and now. So when he asks his followers to make sacrifices and take risks in order to receive the kingdom, he’s assuring them they’ll see some good coming from those sacrifices and risks long before they physically die. If I’d concentrated just a little bit on God’s kingdom as a child, perhaps I wouldn’t have thought being Catholic was all that bad.