This 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time presents us with readings that speak of challenges experienced by our ancestors, and by each of us in our daily lives even now. Each of these challenges, whether in the distant past or at one or other time in our daily lives, also serve us to remind us to rely on our faith in God.
The first reading from Wisdom reminds us the Israelites believed that God would keep God’s promise to them and deliver them from their slavery in Egypt, which he did, though there were times later on that they had to be reminded of this, as perhaps we do, on occasion.
St. Paul, in the second reading, gives us a wonderful description of faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” He repeats the story of Abraham whom God told to leave his home and set off not knowing where he was going. In our world how many people today are fleeing for their lives, not knowing where they will end up and what awaits them at the end. These refugees, fleeing from danger, must have faith and hope that one day they will be safe again.
St. Paul also reminds us of the amazing story of Abraham and Isaac. God had promised Abraham, an old man, indeed, someone “as good as dead,” that he and his old and barren wife, Sarah, would have descendants “as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.” But then God asks him to take his son, Isaac, up a mountain, carrying wood on his back, to offer a sacrifice, and this sacrifice turns out to be this only son on whom he relies to be the start of an incredible lineage, promised by God himself.
A French couple, expert theologians involved in the training of catechists in a diocese near Paris, was invited to come to Quebec and give us pastoral animators some training, a lot of it from their research on the many connections between the Old and the New Testaments. One story that always stood out for me was the connection between this story of Isaac carrying the wood on his back up the mountain, and Jesus carrying his cross up to Calvary and sacrificing himself for us. The children in Grade 4 to whom I told this story immediately saw the connection between Isaac and Jesus Christ. Then, when I asked them what they had learned from Abraham’s part in the story, when he found out that God intended Isaac to be the sacrifice, yet he was nevertheless prepared to kill his only son, one young lad, a gentle soul called Joey, offered this explanation: “This story shows us how we must always trust God!” From the mouths of babes, indeed!
But Abraham and many of his descendants, we are told, “died in faith without having received the promises . . . but they desire a better country, that is a heavenly one.”
Jesus tells us, in Luke’s Gospel, that we must always “be dressed for action . . . ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Many of us lead such busy lives these days, and we wonder if it was always thus, don’t we? Did our parents and grandparents have it any easier? Do some of us, who are already grandparents, think we had things easier than our grandchildren have today? Do we worry about how some things will turn out when they are not working quite as we expect and hope that they would? What keeps us going? If we stop to think about it, surely and hopefully, it must be our faith. Jesus Christ has promised all of us, especially those “to whom much has been given,” that “much will be required” of them and us. So, we are called once more to follow Jesus’ advice, be ready for the unexpected and, meanwhile, help others by giving alms with faith that we are doing God’s will.
Finally, there is that wonderful phrase: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Do we often pause and ask ourselves where our personal treasures are?
Noble was pastoral animator in an elementary Catholic school for 30 years, produced community television programs for 11 years in the 1980s and ’90s, was animator for her diocesan English Region from 2000-2006 and is past national president of the CWL (2006-2008). She lives in Candiac, Que.