Though our first reading begins a little later, the first verse of chapter eleven of the Letter to the Hebrews reads: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” From that statement, the sacred writer goes on to illustrate his meaning by giving us examples of people of faith. Reading the entire chapter introduces us to many of the major characters of the Hebrew Scriptures. Today’s passage focuses our attention on Abram, who would become known as Abraham.
As I was pondering this reading, I found myself asking the familiar question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Of course, I adapted the question to fit this reading: “Which comes first; hope or faith.” The reading seems to provide us with an answer. Abram hoped he would become a father so that he could pass his inheritance on to a son. God assures him that this will happen. Abram chooses to believe, to have faith, that his hope will be realized.
However, this was not the first time that he came to believe God’s word, and it wasn’t the last time either. When God told him to pick up his belongings and to move to a new place where he would receive an inheritance, he also placed his faith in God and did as he was asked. None of us likes change. However, for Abraham, moving to a new land meant giving up his past, his present and even his future because for these people, one’s life was intimately tied up with one’s family and one’s land. When God asked him to bind up Isaac and sacrifice his only son, he also believed and did as he was asked. Abraham’s motive for placing his trust in God was based on the hope that God would honor the promise to make him a father.
Today’s Gospel focuses our attention upon another man who is placing his trust and faith in God. Joseph has been asked to take Mary into his home even though the child she carries is not his. Joseph is so well grounded in the law of the Lord that he does what God asks of him. When the baby that Mary bore was eight days old, Joseph brought him to be circumcised. This act is significant because in this culture, when a man brings his son to be circumcised, he is making the statement that the child is his. He is placing his trust in God by accepting Jesus as his son.
Again, forty days later, he brings Mary to the Temple for purification, a woman he knows does not need this ritual. Yet, he is placing his trust in God and in God’s law. Five times in today’s Gospel, we read that all of this was done according to the law of the Lord. Joseph is placing his faith in God’s promises and proving that he is a righteous man, a man in right relationship with God.
We are then introduced to two other characters who, each in turn, demonstrate their faith in God’s promises. Their example might even be a little more convincing inasmuch as they proclaim that this squirming little boy child is the fulfillment of God’s promise. While babies evoke all sorts of dreams about the future, it is truly the Holy Spirit who informs their words in accepting this fragile, little boy, barely more than a month old as the fulfillment of their dream for an new beginning for Israel.
Abraham, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna all demonstrate that faith is the realization of that which is hoped for. Of course, watching from the sidelines, is Mary, the one who has placed her trust in God’s word so profoundly. When Simeon addresses her, it is with words of foreboding that promise that the life of this child will bring suffering to those who place their hopes in him. This year, the Feast of the Holy Family comes right on the heels of the Feast of St. Stephen, another illustration of what happens when one professes faith in God.
The responsorial psalm for today also reminds us that despite the difficulties that faith may bring, we must remember that “the Lord remembers his covenant forever.” As we continue to weather the storms of this life, we place our faith in the fact that Abraham, Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna have all hoped and believed that their dream for the future is about to come to pass.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator