Christian hope is a gift that assures us that our life here on earth has a meaning, a future, and an ultimate goal in God. “Hope is the confident expectation of divine blessing and the beatific vision of God” (CCC 2090). This spirit of hope, which is based on faith, is one of the predominant themes of today’s readings.
The author of the Book of Wisdom recalls how our spiritual ancestors, when they were in captivity in Egypt, awaited the moment of their liberation. He says that the night of the Passover “was known beforehand to our fathers.” They did not know it in the sense that they always had it marked on their calendars; they knew it in faith. They had the “sure knowledge” that God is faithful to his promises. So they “awaited the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes.” Their waiting was not passive resignation; they prepared for their liberation by offering sacrifice and following the law of God. This is a description of the active and hope-filled anticipation we have for our future day of salvation.
In the Gospel, Jesus reassures us that it has pleased our Father to give us the Kingdom – that is, a share in his divine life and glory. Therefore, he tells us, “Do not be afraid any longer, little flock.” He knows that the future, with all its unknown sufferings, can intimidate us. But if we give in to fear when we look toward the future, it is evidence that we do not fully trust the goodness of our Father. The truth is, we have greater reason to be confident than the Israelites suffering in Egypt. They had to trust that the Passover lamb would save them from death, but we know that the true Lamb of God has already saved us by his Death and Resurrection. With this awareness of our salvation, we can confidently put into practice Jesus’ advice, preparing actively and diligently to welcome the Kingdom the Father is giving us. He urges us to be detached from possessions that can distract us from the lasting treasure that is ours. When we let go of our concern for material things, we are free to pursue the will of God. Where our treasure is, there also will our heart be.
We do not know the day or the hour that the Lord will come to us – whether he will come in a graced moment of insight today, for example, or call us home tomorrow. For this reason, Jesus strongly urges us to be vigilant. He illustrates the importance of such vigilance with a parable about servants who remain always ready for their master to return. He advises us to be on guard; the Son of Man will come when we least expect him. We are to be “faithful and prudent” stewards, who, because we are prepared, already have joy in anticipation of the Master’s return. Our confidence in the mercy of God is not an excuse to be lazy and irresponsible. Because we love the One whom we serve, we work hard for his glory, even at times when we feel that he is absent.
The alternative to being good stewards is to be irresponsible and ungrateful servants. This is obviously a foolish way to live. The enjoyment of some passing benefit is always appealing to our flesh, which craves immediate gratification, but our unsettled conscience and our anxiety about being caught off-guard by the Master spoil it all – not only in the future, but also in the present. We can never really enjoy sin; it always leaves us empty and dissatisfied.
When we live in hope, we have the opposite experience: even if we are suffering, we can find a certain inner peace and joy. The Catechism tells us that “faith makes us taste in advance the light of the beatific vision, the goal of our journey here below” (CCC 163). Our enjoyment of eternal salvation has already begun, in anticipation. It is from this perspective that Benedict XVI wrote: “According to the Christian faith, “redemption” – salvation – is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey…. The distinguishing mark of Christians is that they have a future” (Spe Salvi, 1, 2).
Faith and hope, which are characteristic of those who trust in God, are portrayed for us in the life story of Abraham, our father in faith. The Letter to the Hebrews uses him as an example of how we are to live in faith, with “the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Abraham went forth from his familiar and comfortable past and endured the hardships of being a stranger in a foreign land. He “went out, not knowing where he was to go.” He was able to persevere because he treasured what was in his heart, his relationship with God who revealed himself to him. Thus he was free to leave his homeland behind and follow his heart. This is the freedom we have when we place our hope in God and actively prepare, through all the ups and downs of life, for eternal joy in his presence.
How does fear of my future show that I do not fully trust in God’s goodness? When am I an irresponsible and ungrateful steward? In what ways have I experienced inner peace and joy in suffering?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 18, no. 6. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.