Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Faith

(20th Sunday in Ordinary Time, A)

The Sacred Scriptures we hear today invite us to reflect on faith. We have in them an opportunity to notice the miracle and blessing of having faith in the living God. To know and believe in the one true God is indeed a miracle for us human beings, because we are so prone to following false gods on the one hand, and the other we so easily allow true religion to devolve into magic and superstition.

There was a time when knowledge and worship of the true God was limited to just one family on earth: God called Abraham and Sarah and promised to make of them of a great nation. That was perhaps four thousand years ago, when only one family on earth knew about the living God. Consider, then, how amazing it is that today the majority of people on earth adhere to the faith of Abraham. That’s the Jews, whom John Paul II called our “older brother,” us Christians, and all the Muslims of the world, together with whom, in the words of Vatican II, we “adore the one, merciful God.” The gift of God of knowing the true God, given to one family, has taken over the world.

It was a slow process. Through his grandson Jacob, the family of Abraham became a nation unto God, the people of Israel. God settled them in the Land and they became God’s special possession. Over time, the prophets of Israel who knew the living God with such passion began to reflect on what faith in the one true God meant. See, in the ancient world, each people had their own god or a set of gods. What made Israel different is that they knew that their God was the only true God. But if this God of theirs was the only true God, then he must be the God not only of Israel but of the whole world, right?

This is what is going on in the first reading from the prophet Isaiah. The prophet imagines a time when the Temple of the Jews will become a “house of prayer for all peoples,” and that “foreigners” will “join themselves to the Lord, ministering to him, loving the name of the Lord, and becoming his servants.”

The foreigners are us, friends. Through the Church, which is the Body of Christ in the world, we have been brought into the faith of God’s chosen people Israel. This is the great miracle of the Holy Spirit. From the one family of Abraham to the little nation of the Israelites, there is now an entire third of the world that is Christian. And half of us are Catholics. To use St. Paul’s language, in Christ we are “grafted” onto the chosen people and adopted into the family of Abraham.

This ought to keep us humble and grateful, for in this four thousand year old story, we have only arrived lately and towards the end of the story. For those of us with roots in northern Europe, some of our peoples have known the God of Abraham for less than a thousand years. If you’re Irish that extends to fifteen or sixteen hundred years, but that’s still squarely in the latter half of the history of salvation. And we who have been introduced to faith in the living God only in these last days, we have received just as much if not more in blessing and grace.

We are newcomers, and we ought not to forget it. Our attitude should always be a little bit like the woman in the Gospel who knows that, though she believes, the faith is not hers. Like her we have brought into the faith and blessing of God’s chosen people by the generosity of God in Christ.

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