At the beginning of our second reading today, from the Letter to the Hebrews, we heard: “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.
Because of it the ancients were well attested.” ¿Well attested? Well ain’t that nice. The ancients were well attested. What does that mean? I am sure the ancients were very happy about being well attested, but it doesn’t mean much in plain English.
Excuse me, but I have to stop here for a couple of minutes and do some moaning and groaning. You see I think the translation of our second reading is – to put it mildly – poor. Our reading comes from the Revised New American Bible. When in 1986 it was revised it did not get any better in my humble opinion. In the old, Unrevised New American Bible, the opening of our second reading reads, “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see. Because of faith the men of old were approved by God.” So “well attested” means “approved by God.”
And faith is not “the realization of what is hoped for”. If what is hoped for is realized than there is no need for faith, because it is realized. You have it. Much better (to me) is the older translation, “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.”
As an aside, later in our reading we heard, “By faith Abraham received power to generate, even though he was past the normal age —and Sarah herself was sterile— for he thought that the one who had made the promise was trustworthy.”
Interestingly, in the old translation the verse was not about Abraham’s faith but about Sarah’s. It read “By faith Sarah received power to conceive through she was past the age, for she thought that the One who had made the promise was worthy of trust.” The faith being held up as an example for us to follow in verse 11 is not Abraham’s, but Sarah’s. Somehow in the revision credit got taken away from Sarah and given to Abraham. The Catholic Scripture scholar, Myles Bourke, in the prestigious Jerome Biblical Commentary states: “The mention of Sarah is surprising” He goes on: “… The attempts to read a different meaning into the Greek in order to avoid the difficulty this verse presents (i.e., by holding up Sarah as an exemplar of faith) are of doubtful merit.” Yet so the revised version has it, revising poor Sarah out of the examplars of faith.
This is especially ironic since from very early times scholars have known that this Letter to the Hebrews was not written by St. Paul. It is inspired Scripture, but not the work of St. Paul. One of the favorite contenders among scholars for the title of author of the Letter to the Hebrews is St. Priscilla. St. Paul praises her in the Letter to the Romans, and St. Luke mentions her in the Acts of the Apostles. She was the wife of St. Aquila. They were an early missionary couple and co-workers with St. Paul. So this may be one of the few books of the Bible written by a woman. But we don’t know for certain. Origen, an early 3rd Century theologian wrote: “'But as to who wrote the epistle, only God knows the truth.' So there you have it.
But I digress. “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see. Because of faith the men of old were approved by God.” All of us are called to have faith. We are called to live by faith. By faith we will be saved. So Faith is of crucial importance. And what is faith? “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.”
Confident assurance of what we hope for. We hope for a great deal: salvation from all the pain, heartache, disappointment and discouragement of this world, radical freedom from sin and from death, and in its place7 the fullness of life, eternal life, I don’t think we could hope for any more.
So if faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, where does this confidence come from? If we are not just looking at life through rose colored glasses, and faith is not just an exercise in wishful thinking, where does this confident assurance come from?
Well, first of all, it is not scientific proof, nor mathematical certainty, nor a firm logical deduction. None of those are faith. And faith is much more than any intellectual certainty, or conviction about certain dogmas or creeds. The faith that gives life is rather something much more personal and relational. Because the confidence does not come from us, but rather from our relationship with Jesus. Faith is always faith in Jesus, and it is a relationship with Him. Only by knowing and encountering Him do we come to the faith that saves.
We have faith that Jesus, Who gave Himself totally and completely for us, holding absolutely nothing back, is both able to save us and badly wanting to do so. Our confidence comes from knowing Him, and His unshakable commitment to us. That is what the cross is all about.
We have confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see. We do not see the Risen Lord the way Mary Magdalene and Peter did. We do not see the Risen Lord the way St. Paul did. But we are convinced that Jesus is Risen. We experience His Body in the Church gathered, and in His Word in the Gospel proclaimed, and in the Sacrament of His Body and Blood which we receive. In these and other ways we encounter and experience Jesus’ care, compassion, forgiveness, His tenderness, His challenge, His strength, His hope, His love. And because we experience Jesus’ presence in this way, we come to believe that He is Risen. We have “conviction about things we do not see.” And so we have faith.
Faith, for most of us, waxes and wanes. It grows, it shrinks. Sometimes we misplace it. We may seem to lose it for a while. We continually need to go back to Jesus, to encounter Him, and grow in faith. Faith is a wonderful, wonderful gift. It is a gift Jesus gives to us through the Holy Spirit. Pray and ask for faith. “Faith is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see.”