Faith of 'strangers and aliens' call us to lives of service
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Aug. 8
Wisdom 18:6-9; Psalm 33:1,12,18-19,20-22; Hebrews 11:1-2,8-19; Luke 12:32-48
Are Christians “strangers and aliens?” This is the type of question that theologians hear from people who are closely studying the Bible. When I get such a question I am reminded of the old axiom that the role of a theologian is to “seldom affirm; never deny; always distinguish.”
In one sense Christians are not “aliens and strangers.” This is clearly taught in Ephesians 2:19 where Paul emphasizes our unity in Jesus Christ: “This means that you are strangers and aliens no longer. No, you are fellow citizens of the saints and members of the household of God.” We truly are members of the same family making us brothers and sisters in the Lord.
But there is another sense in which we are “strangers and aliens.” As Christians, our true citizenship is in heaven. We are thus aliens here, pilgrims passing through with our eyes and hearts focused on our true homeland which is to come. The Kingdom of Heaven has begun here and is present here “in seed and beginning” (Lumen Gentium 5). But what has begun in the resurrection of Jesus has not yet come to its completion and fulfillment. We await it and long for it with faith and hope.
It is this faith that today’s readings discuss. Hebrews 11:1 defines this faith as “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” The Second Vatican Council defined this faith in personalistic terms: “By faith man freely commits his entire self to God, making ‘full submission of his intellect and will to God who reveals’ (quoting Vatican I) and willingly assenting to the Revelation given by Him” (Dei Verbum 5).
In other words, through faith we entrust ourselves to God and we assent to the truths revealed to us by God. We trust in God and we trust that God’s word is true. This is, of course, the reality of all authentic relationships. We entrust ourselves to our friends and spouse. We trust the word and integrity of our friends. Since God is the perfect friend, we entrust ourselves to Him totally; we trust Him completely.
Abraham and Sarah are models of this faithfulness. They trusted God and believed His word. They did not live to see God’s word fulfilled for them in this life -- they “saw it from afar” and “acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth” (Hebrews 11:13).
This type of faith also empowers one to lead a life of service. Abraham and Sarah, while not perfect, truly tried to live lives of faithful service.
In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus calls us to wait for his return like faithful servants. He teaches us that unto whom much is given, much is expected (cf. Luke 12:48). He calls us to be ever ready and prepared to encounter him in our daily life and vocation of loving service to others. While we wait for complete fulfillment in heaven, we fulfill our calling here to continue to help build up the Kingdom.
Our faith in the Lord is a great treasure. Our longing for the Kingdom, that “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:45), keeps us focused on what is of eternal importance. For we know that “where your treasure is, there also will your heart be” (Luke 12:34).
MSGR. STUART Swetland, a priest of the Diocese of Peoria, is the Most Rev. Harry J. Flynn Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount St. Mary University in Emmitsburg, Md.