Sunday August 7, 2016
A Reflection on Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19, N.A.B.
By: Larry T
Imagine waking up tomorrow morning in a foreign country, China for example. Most of us would be forced to use lively gestures and animated facial expressions as a means of communicating with the Chinese people. How useful would wide eyes and flailing arms be in getting directions to the American Embassy? Also, spoken Chinese is a tonal language with lots of upward and downward sounds often described as very bouncy or lively, and to us it would sound like nonsensical gibberish. On the whole, this would be an unpleasant experience!
Then, imagine stumbling onto a group of English speaking Italians. What a break! Admittedly their heavily accented English would be hard for us to understand, but at least we could communicate with them.
In this Scripture reading Abraham and Sarah traveled to the Promised Land in faith and became aliens in a foreign country, an uneasy situation to be in, and one that we can relate to:
1 Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.
2 Because of it the ancients were well attested.
8 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.
9 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;
10 for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.
11 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 trustworthy.
12 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.
13 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,
14 for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.
15 If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return.
16 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.
17 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,
18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.”
19 He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.
What do Catholics have in common with Abraham and Sarah? Like them, we are aliens in an unfamiliar land. Christians, especially Catholics, should always have a disquieting sense of discomfort, the uneasiness of being strangers in a foreign land because, like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Sarah, this world is not our homeland; we are strangers here.
Our Catholic faith and community identity sets us apart from the Christian non-Catholic and non-Christian society which surrounds us. Some of the words and ideas uttered by that society should sound like Chinese to us, like nonsensical gibberish. On the other side of the coin, our Christian non-Catholic brothers and sisters do not understand some of our customs and beliefs, and when they speak out against us our sense of alienation is usually amplified.
What are we to think when some of our fellow Catholics and Christian non-Catholics endorse abortion, euthanasia, religious discrimination, or immoral behavior? In this regard they are like that group of English speaking Italians that we bumped into on our imaginary visit to China: because of their accent we can make out some of their words, but we clearly don’t speak the same language.
The author of 1 Peter wrote:
11 Beloved, I urge you as aliens and sojourners to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against the soul. – 1 Peter 2:11 N.A.B.
This author’s message is clear: this earth is not our native soil. We are aliens; we don’t belong here; we are journeying to our eternal home. It’s worth repeating over and over: we are aliens on this earth; we don’t belong here; we are journeying to our eternal home.
There was a common belief among some of the Old Testament Hebrews that they should figuratively chew on and absorb the Law of Moses daily, like food, so that it would become part of their nature. Similarly, if we can chew on and absorb the concept that we are aliens on this earth, such things as pride, materialism, greed, wrath, and even fear of death will fall away from our eyes like scales, like the scales which fell from St. Paul’s eyes, and we will be blessed with true vision.