Grace to you!
Many of us are familiar with the story of Abraham, the greatest Old Testament model of faith. He is called the father of faith for good reasons.
God spoke to him; and, without a shred of a doubt he listened. He obeyed. We applaud his faith. We are beneficiaries of what he started.
Would it change your perspective if I told you that it was Abraham’s descendants who actually received the temporal land promised him by God? Abraham didn’t.
Recall the promise in Genesis 12. God assured Abraham (and his descendants) the entire land of Canaan, flowing with milk and honey. Like Moses after him, Abraham saw it, but he didn’t possess it.
The only land he owned before he died was the cave of Machpelah, near Hebron, and its surrounding field. He actually paid an exorbitant price (four hundred shekels of silver) for it, using the death of his wife as a sympathy plea to acquire the land. Appealing to the Hittites, Abraham stated he was a stranger and sojourner in Canaan who needed a place to bury his wife, Sarah (Genesis 23:4). Thereafter, the cave was to serve as his burial place, and those of Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Leah also.
So, what then did Abraham hope for as the substance of his faith in Divine Promise? What lessons do we learn from this?
Let’s return to the classical New Testament definition, or should I say, condensed description of faith: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old received divine approval.”
The Greek word used in the text, which is here translated by the Revised Standard Version bible as “assurance,” is hypostatis. Hypostatis is translated in the first Latin version of the bible (Jerome) as substantia (substance).
Substantia literally means, “that which underlies.” It’s like the firm basis for hope. I love how Pope Benedict described it. It’s the believer possessing, like in an embryonic form, what is already promised (see Spe Salvi, no. 2). Because we possess it, we hold on to it, we hope for it’s full realization, we are convinced we will reach the Promised Land.
If you have ever received the gift of faith, not simply inheriting a religion, you would see how within you, you bear the hope of glory. The joy and the peace are unequalled. You bear it, though you may not fully understand it. That inner joy, sometimes in the form of divine consolation, other times in forms of certainty and peace, gives you a unique audacity, which nothing temporal can compare.
Or consider the inner joy you have when you receive the Lord in Holy Communion. You know you possess Jesus; you carry him. Inside of you is heaven. You carry heaven down to your pews and contemplate that heaven, even though it is yet to be fully realized at the resurrection in God’s kingdom.
Spiritual writers call the experience miniature beatific vision; the heavenly glimpse granted by God to show, “I am here.”
The substance of faith is, therefore, God Himself and the entirety of God’s will which is our salvation in the Christ. The Kingdom of God is the home of that salvation. Faith makes you carry it here as Saint Paul said, in a mirror dimly, as you journey to the final homeland.
Abraham is a good example to show us that the proof of faith isn’t necessarily because your temporal needs, like homes, cars, clothes or properties, are immediately met. All the immediate needs of Abraham weren’t met. He lived like a nomad. Rather, it’s that you keep moving towards the goal, the Hope of Glory in Christ.
The hymn of faith is chanted in anticipation of what is yet to come. And the faith victory song is ultimately sung in retrospect. As the Israelite would sing, “when the Lord delivered Zion, it seemed like a dream.”
Prosperity gospel messengers, take note!
God love you. God bless you!
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on Scriptural readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.