Saturday, January 27 – A Matter of Life and Death

Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19

Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of the realities that at present remain unseen. It was for faith that our ancestors were commended.

It was by faith that Abraham obeyed the call to set out for a country that was the inheritance given to him and his descendants, and that he set out without knowing where he was going. By faith he arrived, as a foreigner, in the Promised Land, and lived there as if in a strange country, with Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. They lived there in tents while he looked forward to a city founded, designed and built by God.

It was equally by faith that Sarah, in spite of being past the age, was made able to conceive, because she believed that he who had made the promise would be faithful to it. Because of this, there came from one man, and one who was already as good as dead himself, more descendants than could be counted, as many as the stars of heaven or the grains of sand on the seashore.

All these died in faith, before receiving any of the things that had been promised, but they saw them in the far distance and welcomed them, recognising that they were only strangers and nomads on earth. People who use such terms about themselves make it quite plaint hat they are in search of their real homeland. They can hardly have meant the country they came from, since they had the opportunity to go back to it; but in fact they were longing for a better homeland, their heavenly homeland. That is why God is not ashamed to be called their God, since he has founded the city for them.

It was by faith that Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. he offered to sacrifice his only son even though the promises had been made to him and he had been told: It is through Isaac that your name will be carried on. He was confident that God had the power even to raise the dead; and so, figuratively speaking, he was given Isaac back from the dead.

Mark 4:35-41

With the coming of evening, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let us cross over to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat; and there were other boats with him. Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep. They woke him and said to him, “Master, do you not care? We are going down!” And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Quiet now! Be calm!” And the wind dropped, and all was calm again. Then he said to them, “Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?” They were filled with awe and said to one another, “Who can this be? Even the wind and sea obey him.”

Obedience is not something that comes naturally for us. As children, we have to be taught to obey those who are in authority over us – our parents, our teachers, our grandparents, etc. As we grow up, we spent our growing years yearning for the age when we can finally shrug off these burdensome reins of authority, and to make our own choices. But when we finally reach adulthood, we come to realise that we’re still living in the shadow of even larger and more powerful authorities, ones that we will be under for the rest of our lives.

But true enough, as adults, we can indeed make our own choices. We can choose whether to submit to such authority or to rebel against it. The thing is, most of the time, when we choose to rebel against it, we set up another authority – our own – which makes us no different from the one that we rebelled against.

I once joined a group of Catholics who were “rebelling” against the authority that they believed was oppressing them. They wanted to be able to speak out freely about the issues that they were most concerned with in the Church, so they set up this group for that purpose. But when I spoke out against their motives, when I spoke out against the group itself, they clamped me down, proving themselves no different from the authority that they sought to be different from.

This is just an example, but it is true for all sorts of authorities that we seek to free ourselves from, and to set up one in their place. When that authority is ourselves, we often become even worse oppressors than the ones we seek freedom from. What, then, is the answer to this? Today’s readings show us that rather than setting up our own authority, we ought to strive to identify and choose which authority to follow and to trust in.

The figures in today’s readings all chose God’s authority as the authentic one and sought to follow his commands throughout their lives, even when the commands ran contrary to common sense, even when the commands ran contrary to what they were promised. They understood that God operates outside human rules, even those of life and death. They understood that God can do the impossible. This was why they entrusted themselves to him in the first place.

Sometimes we, like them, also entrust ourselves to God. But when God asks the impossible from us, we rebel. We refuse to subject ourselves to any more of God’s impossible requests… not that they are entirely physically impossible in themselves, but that they, as mentioned above, either run contrary to what we were promised, or that they ran contrary to common sense. So we rebel. We say to God, “You’re asking me to do the impossible. I don’t need authority like that. I remove you from your throne. From now on, I’ll be my own authority.”

And that’s exactly what Satan wants us to do, for he is in the business of getting other people to follow him. Not to treat Satan as their authority, but to remove themselves from under God’s authority, and to be their own authority, just like Satan did and is still doing.

But when we choose any other way other than God’s way, we end up heading towards death, because only God is the giver of life, and only God’s way leads to life. This is not a threat, or blackmail, for God lays down two choices before us always – life or death. We have the freedom to choose. Although God would want us to choose life and tells us so, the freedom to choose is still ours. And every choice that we make for or against God leads us further down that path of our own choosing.

Which path are you choosing to walk, based on your daily choices in life?

Dear Jesus, help us to make daily choices for life by choosing your way over ours, life over death. Help us not just to follow your path, but to choose your path for ourselves, so that we might be brought to eternal life, which is to know the Father and you, whom he has sent. Amen.

Give Thanks to the Lord for: The gift of the freedom to choose.

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