My friends, once again this week we are asked to look at the quality of “faith”—what it is and what it in fact, means in our lives. The Scriptures for today, in two instances, tell us stories of people who believe, and more so, hope, for a cure from leprosy—Naaman, through the intercession of Elisha, the prophet and a Samaritan at the hands of our brother, Jesus. And even though 10 lepers are cured; we will concentrate on the one that Jesus did—the one who came back to say, “thank you,” which tells us something, I think, about the virtue of gratitude. And finally, in the letter to Timothy; we see the faith of Paul, who is in prison.
So first, we encounter Naaman, a non-Israelite, in the reading from Kings, cured by the prophet, through Naaman’s faith and then a Samaritan, along with nine others, cured by Jesus of a skin disease that made them outcasts in their own land—again, they were, as Jesus said, “Saved by their faith.” So, it would seem, as we discussed last week—faith can do great things.
Because “faith” is taking center stage these past two weeks, many people are writing about it—one in particular, Jesuit musician, Dan Schutte. Dan speaks, in an article in the National Catholic Reporter, about his education, from little on with the School Sisters of Notre Dame and later with the Jesuits. He says that in both cases, he was challenged to, “not leave his brain at the door of the church,” so to speak, “but to think deeply about his Catholic faith and to not take everything at face value—[questioning], as a path toward a deeper and more authentic faith, to make his own, the teachings of the Church.” Sounds like a great description of faith for all of us!
Schutte goes on to give another description of faith that he gained, along the way from a priest, in a sermon during the Easter Season. He didn’t include the priest’s name, but says that he has never forgotten what he had to say on the topic. “The opposite of faith is not doubt,” the unnamed priest said. “The opposite of faith is certainty.”
Schutte continues, “In other words, when we are certain about something, we don’t need faith anymore. Walking in faith, Schutte continues, sometimes takes work, not only of the heart, but the mind. It’s often a daring, courageous journey with Jesus, the Risen One, at our side, guiding us with his Spirit,” he concludes.
I would like to lift up a couple of things that he said in this explanation. Schutte talks about the “work” that “faith” sometimes is, and I think it is significant that he says, it is the work of not only the “heart, but the mind.” The significant piece for me is that he started with, “the heart” and only secondly added, “the mind.” In other words, faith is a “heart matter,” primarily, and we should always start there! Starting with the mind seems to direct us to the “certainty” that the unnamed priest says, “is not faith.”
The second point that I’d like to call our attention to is the fact that, faith “is often a daring, courageous journey with Jesus.” In other words, when it comes to faith—believing in things that we aren’t certain about; we need to keep our eyes on Jesus and “trust in the inspiration of his Spirit.”
It was this kind of faith and trust that carried Jesus throughout his life, which inspired Naaman, Paul and the Samaritan leper in the readings for today. And when we think about faith in our own lives, would we describe it as Dan Schutte came to understand it from teachers through the years? I personally find great solace in knowing that faith isn’t something that I need to have “certainty” about.
When I think of the things that I have taken on faith in my life and probably will continue to, without complete assurance; I realize that it comes from a “deep knowing” in my heart, that something is so, that God wants me to do this. Examples: that I should enter the convent, that I should leave the convent, that I should marry Robert, that I should pursue ordination.
For me, it is about my relationship with Jesus and I dare say, if it weren’t for him, what he said and did in his earthly life; I would find belief in the God that the hierarchy gives us, at times, hard to take.
This reminds me of a scene from Franco Zefferelli’s film, Jesus of Nazareth. This particular scene takes place after Jesus’ death. Mary Magdalen has just come to share the news that, “Jesus is risen, that she has seen him!” Of course, the men don’t believe her and she leaves in disgust.
The apostles go on to discuss the matter, rather heatedly and at one point, Thomas, who was known in Scriptures for doubting, questions Peter, “Do you believe her story?” Peter responds, “Yes, I do!” Thomas counters with, “How can you?!” Peter responds simply, “Because he, [meaning Jesus] said so—that he would rise! And Peter continued, “I have always believed him!”
We can hardly object to what someone says they believe, but knowing a person, their credibility in other things; we come to trust in their assurance, “about things they cannot see,” which is the definition of faith. Now, of course this scene from Zefferelli’s film is not recorded in Scripture, but we can imagine such was part of the apostles’ deliberations in coming to believe all that Jesus said and ultimately, did.
So, my friends, my purpose here is not to “sew up faith,” as it were, because we know that is not possible. My purpose in fact is to challenge us to think ever more deeply about what our faith means—and further, what it calls us to do.
Jesus had a sense—a trust, that he was mightily loved by his Abba God, that he was sent on a mission of love and something about his trust in God’s love and care for him, allowed him to give to the final measure.
We see this same type of love in the love of earthly parents—their willingness to bring children into a world that they have no assurance will be a good place for them to grow up in, except for what they have experienced in their own lives. This same type of love is present within anyone who chooses love over hate in our world, good over bad.
In conclusion then, no assurances, but faith will lead to some awesome places if we can let go of our need for certainty and our response to this new-found freedom is likely to be that of the one, returning leper—now cured—gratitude. Amen? Amen!