Fr Rob McNamara
“Father, you seem like a nice guy but to be honest with you we are only here out of politeness. We don’t believe in anything that isn’t scientifically provable.”
This was the sincere greeting I got from the team-mates of a sportsperson whose wedding I was officiating at recently. And the concerns addressed by God’s Word this weekend are not a million miles away from these 21st century Irish sentiments, directed as they were to sophisticated young Jewish intellectuals in cosmopolitan Alexandria, 50 years before Jesus was born. These young people were surrounded by mystery-cults and scientific studies, and may have been tempted to abandon the faith of their ancestors. By employing the key Biblical metaphor of faith as the journey, in this case the freedom- journey of Passover night, the writer of Wisdom tries to persuade them that it is possible to be both religious and sophisticated –dare we say “cool”?-and that faith need not be opposed to the earnest search for truth.
God’s Word this weekend invites us to ask ourselves the fundamental question: what is faith? We have a famous definition of it this weekend from Hebrews 11:1: the guarantee of the existence of realities which at present remain unseen. Way back in the 1980’s, the Columban missionary Fr. Niall O’ Brien, imprisoned in the Philippines for his solidarity with the landless and voiceless, described faith as the promise that “deep in the heart of the universe there beats a living goodness.”
My personal favourite is that of Pope Emeritus Benedict who said that faith is a friendship with a person called Jesus, Who can give your life a new horizon and a decisive direction; Who can give your life wings!
Which brings me back to my sporting friends at the wedding! I prayed: “come, Holy Spirit. How do I handle this one?” Here’s what I said: you know when you’re deep into injury-time and you’re losing. Then, miraculously, you pull it out of the bag. Can you scientifically measure trust, loyalty, courage, hope, or love? The fact that you cannot measure them does not make them any less real! And we Christians believe that ultimate trust and loyalty and love are found in God, Who makes them up close and personal in Jesus Christ. This proved credible to them, thank God.
The motif of faith as the journey runs throughout the three readings this weekend. Wisdom teaches us that the call to embark on the freedom journey of Passover is what defines the Israelites as the people of God. In Luke’s Gospel, a masterful Jesus, Who is the new Passover, invites us all to embark on that faith journey from slavery to freedom, and this call is urgent. It calls for decluttering, readiness, and prioritisation of whom and what is most important: “where your treasure is, there will your heart be.”
Jesus came that we may live life to the full (John 10.10). Yet some of us prefer the security of our slavery, where being alive is simply a provable fact, rather than a ticket to a magic show. On the faith journey, what seems of more importance to God is the quality of our journeying, rather than arrival at the destination. That’s because Christian life is always a work in progress, a caravan in transit on a road laid with the land-mines of complacency. Christian faith must therefore include the ability to live with mess, loose ends and unfinished business, because if I embark with Jesus on the freedom journey, I surrender control. Jesus’ order to “stand ready, because the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect,” is a reminder of this, not a threat meant to scare us. The good news is that Jesus is in control, and journeys with us. Will I be humble enough to abandon the delusion of self-sufficiency, and journey with Him?