19th Sunday Year C
Theme of the week: The gift of faith, its fruits and challenges.
The First Reading recalls the story of Exodus, where through one miracle on the Red Sea, God saved the Israelites for their faith and punished the Egyptians for their infidelity: “by the same means by which you punished our enemies you called us to yourself and glorified us” (verse 8). The contrasting fate of the Israelites and the Egyptians mirrors our lives, where we play the saint and the sinner from one moment to another, mixing blessings with dangers (verse 9). We may ask ourselves: how can I be more a saint than a sinner? The answer is faith.
Casting our mind further back in the history from the Exodus, the Second Reading provides an illustration of faith by recalling the actions of Abraham, our father of faith. Abraham was asked to leave his homeland and go to a foreign land. In spite of the uncertainty associated with this endeavour, Abraham followed the Lord’s lead. Then the Lord promised him a child, even though his wife Sarah was well advanced in her years. Abraham did not doubt and Sarah gave birth to Isaac at the ripe old age of 90. Then the Lord asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac to Him. Once again, Abraham did not question the Lord but went ahead with the preparation for the sacrifice. Having tested Abraham’s faith to the extreme, the Lord sent an angel to stop him from harming Isaac in the nick of time. Through these episodes, we witness the faith of Abraham manifested in his total trust in the Lord.
While Abraham was rewarded in earthly ways in his many acts of faith, the passage explains that the reward for faith is not just confined to earthly rewards. In fact, earthly rewards should not even be the most desirable form of rewards in our minds. They are temporary in nature; and are sometimes fulfilled only after we die, where the righteous “died in faith without having received the promises” (verse 13). Such was the case of the Promised Land, where it was given to Abraham’s descendants rather than Abramham himself. Beyond earthly rewards, beyond the earthly Promised Land, the passage tells us to desire “a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (verse 16). In other words, the ultimate reward for faith is not earthly rewards, but a heavenly existence where we share the glory of God – a heavenly Promised Land.
Continuing on the topic of faith, the Gospel uses three parables to explain the virtuous manifestation of faith. In urgining us to sell our possessions to shore up our heavenly treasures, the passage exults the virtues of preparedness, for we do not know when the thief will come at night. In urging us to be like the slave who is already ready for the master’s return, the passage exults the virtues of watchfulness, for we do not know when the master would be returning from the wedding. To help us build and feed our faith, the third parable preaches the virtue of service, so that when the day come, God would be pleased with how we serve others with the talents he has given us. The passage concludes with a paradox: having done all that is pleasing to God, by these very virtues, God placed an even higher demand on us: “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (verse 48). Such responsibilities can be overwhelming, so much so that one might say it is better to be less virtuous! In fact, through this teaching, Jesus poses this challenge to us: that we accept the gift of faith from God and accept the higher demands God places on us. Mother Teresa understood this teaching fully, when she quite humorously said, “I know God will not give me anything I can’t handle. I just wish that He didn’t trust me so much!” Let us pray that we too may accept the demands of our faith with the same child-like simplicity.