Gospel Reflection for Aug. 7, 2022, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Two of the Cardinal Virtues -- faith and hope -- are expressed in these Readings. Hope leads us to faith, and faith is strengthened by hope. 

Jesus, as he preaches about the Kingdom of Heaven, does so in ways that seem at times confusing and perhaps even contradictory. The Kingdom is at the same time present in our midst, immanent, coming soon and yet long delayed. The Kingdom is within us, among us, and not yet realized, while still being perfectly present. The vagueness of his preaching about the Kingdom reflects the struggle that we all have with understanding the Kingdom. Perhaps, for this reason, when most of us think of the Kingdom of Heaven we think of the ideal of haven which we hope to attain at the moment of our death. Yet, this image, though important, does not reflect the totality of Jesus’s teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Both the readings from the Book of Wisdom and the Letter to the Hebrews draw our attentions to the importance of faith history of salvation. The author of Hebrews writes: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” This reminds us that faith relies on hope -- the hope of the fulfillment of the promise of resurrection and of life eternal. At the same time hope relies on faith. At its very core hope needs something in which to believe. These two, of what we call the theological virtues, rely upon each other.  

Through the example of Abraham, the Letter to the Hebrews demonstrates the juxtaposition of these virtues. Abraham left homeland and family and ventured off to secure a promise made to him by God. Both his faith and his hope were challenged -- even through the unimaginable test of thinking he had to sacrifice his only son, Isaac to the Lord. His faith, his hope anticipates Jesus who promises us, not the fame and glory of this world, but the promise of the heavenly kingdom.

The Book of WIsdom, probably the last book of the Old Testament to have ben written, speaks of the importance of faith in the experience of the Exodus. As the Hebrew people endured the trials and suffering of forced labor, they longed for freedom. For generations, for some four hundred years, thousands of men and women lived and died looking forward to the day when they could return to the land of their ancestors and their heritage. They most certainly must have felt that the day of freedom would never come. 

When Moses and Aaron appear on the scene to lead them to freedom it must have seemed that this would be a failed enterprise. They endured harsher treatment, and watched as the Pharaoh only grew more and more obstinate through the devastation caused by the plagues. When the time came, and Moses gave them the instructions for what becomes the Passover meal, it took courage -- it took a great deal of faith -- to walk towards the Red Sea in search for that freedom. Only two people -- Joshua and Caleb -- would complete the journey. Everyone else who left Egypt that night died in the desert, while over the next forty years, a whole new generation of Israelites, now forged in the covenant at Sinai, were born. In spite of setbacks and discouragement, they keep on the journey.

It is the same with the church today, something about which Jesus warnes his listeners in the Gospel for today. It has been almost tw-thousand years since the preaching of Jesus, and the history of the faith he left us has gone through many generations and much turmoil over the millennia. Yet we endure, triumphant and suffering, hopefulled and discouraged. We cannot grow slack. The zeal with which we live our faith and express our hope must be as enthusiastic and clear as on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit sent the apostles on their mission.

Yet, we know that faith and hope, though significant, are not enough. There is yet a third theological virtue: love. Saint Paul reminds us that love binds the other two virtues, indeed all virtues together. 

Our faith and our hope, must be rooted in love -- our love for God and our love for one another. It is through our shared faith and our shared hope that we discover that love, and it is love that gives meaning to faith and hope.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.