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19th Sunday of the Ordinary Time Homily-Fr. Andrew Lee

“Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” This is a beautiful and precise definition of Christian faith according to the writer of the book of Hebrews. Faith is the realization of what is hoped for. We believe that what we hope in Christ will come true. Through this faith, our future hope becomes reality. This is faith grown in hope. And faith is also evidence of things not seen. Faith enables us to remain confident and faithful to God’s unseen promise and dedicated to its fulfillment. And faith then becomes verification. When I reflected on this part of the reading, I came to realize that our faith here is present right now but deeply associated with the future. We strongly hope for God’s works to be accomplished in the future and faith provides us with the present ground of this future hope.

This development of the reflection takes me to a thought about time. What is time? I am not thinking about clocks or apple watches. What is the nature of time? This question has been a complicated and controversial theme. There have been studies and thesis about the nature of time in science and philosophy. Often, time is presented as an opposite concept of eternity. God exists in eternity and we live in time. Eternity is not a limitless amount of time, but beyond time. Eternity is absolute and time is relative. Time is one of the frames that is applied to finite beings. The fact is that we live in time even though time is changing. We are finite and limited in time. Time is divided into three distinct regions: past, present, and future. We lived in the past, are living in the present, will live in the future. We can’t live outside time.

I told you about my 40-day retreat one time. Before my ordination, it was the obligation to have a spiritually long 40-day retreat. In the beginning, a nun, the director of the retreat, spent about 2 days explaining how to pray, how to empty my mind, fill God’s spirit in there, and plunge myself into God’s love. And then she continued to talk about distractions. She said, “you are most likely to have distractions during the pray. Don’t worry about that. It is natural. But you have to sort out what your distractions are. If they are about plans in the future, let it go because it has not come yet. If they are about present, please let go of that, too because you are praying right now. If they are about past, you should pay much attention to that because you have to bring wounds or hurt from the past to God through your prayers.” I was impressed with the nun’s explanation on distractions: past, present, and future distractions. Even the moment when we are distracted by thoughts during prayers, we live in time. This means we must be in one of the regions: past, present, and future. No one gets out of time as long as the person breathes.

Jesus is talking about the future today in verses 35 to 48: the servants awaiting the Master’s return, the burglar who comes in unexpectedly, the faithful steward and the abusive, irresponsible slave. Those sermons tell us how to prepare for our future. The servants who await the Master’s return have to be vigilant and prepared. The faithful steward should be responsible for the duty and get it done in time. Unlike people in the modern world, people in Jesus’ day were really drawn into daily bread and mired in present concerns. They had no room to think about their future. Mediterranean culture is primarily focused on the present. Even in a wide sense, tomorrow and yesterday might be included. Therefore, by bringing up the parables, the faithful steward, the unexpected burglar, and the Master’s return, Jesus wants to open their eyes to see the future. By widening the horizon of the time zones to the future, Jesus challenges not only the ancient peasants who are oriented to present, but also scholars and Pharisees of the tradition who are bound to the past. Jesus draws everyone to the future.

In today’s second reading, the author of Hebrews also persuades us to hope for the future as our faith ancestors had done. Of course, the book presents to us the past examples of how to show faith to God. But the examples are introduced to let us know how to have faith now in the future hope for God’s promise. Especially Abraham’s faith is highlighted. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance.” Even though he was not sure if he would receive that, by faith he settled in the Promised Land. Even though he knew his wife Sarah was barren, by faith he remained faithful to God’s promise. At the offering of his son Isaac, he even believed that God would raise numerous descendants from the dead. Faith indicates present but definitely previews and projects future hope. “They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar.” Our second reading is about the classic definition of faith and tells us how to consolidate our present faith with future hope.

Today’s readings challenge us to see God’s Kingdom in the future with present faith. We live in time: past, present, and future. We live in the present but have faith in the future hope. As I conclude my homily and we reflect on Abraham’s faith, I’d like to think of a person who had the greatest faith in history: Mary the Mother of Jesus. She was greatly bewildered when she heard she would conceive God’s Son. But finally, she saw and contemplated God’s future salvation plan for the world, and firmly believed that her present acceptance would be a future achievement of God’s promise. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” We all are invited to this humble confession. We should be rooted in present faith: I am the handmaid of the Lord. But we still hope for the future of God’s plan. “May it be done to me according to your word.” This is precisely what each of us must do as we go through our own lives. Let us ask our Mother Mary to intercede for us so that we may have strong faith in the present and long for everlasting life in Christ’s Kingdom.

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