Season After Pentecost, 2019 Year C : The Epistle Passage – When terribly sad things happen to faithful and devoted believers
“By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land, but when the Egyptians attempted to do so they were drowned.
By faith the walls of Jericho fell after they had been encircled for seven days.
By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had received the spies in peace.
And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets– who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.” (Hebrews 11:29 – 34)
There are, beloved reader, more modern stories (ie. Stories of believers in Jesus Christ) of what the faithful had suffered. One of the books given to me during my teen years was a book about Christians who suffered for their faith. Some faith traditions are littered (in a good way) with stories of saints of the past who held firm to their faith. My own faith, Anabaptism is one such faith tradition that is so littered. All those stories are tragically sad, and a little disturbing. Not that Paul would have hesitated to disturb his readers. I don’t think the person who gave me the book of believers who suffered for their faith meant to disturb me either. But nonetheless, it gives one pain and pause.
“Women received their dead by resurrection. Others were tortured, refusing to accept release, in order to obtain a better resurrection. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, persecuted, tormented– of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.” (Verses 35 – 38)
Paul was very much like these believers – cast about, forsaking simple comforts, and allowing him/themselves to oppressed and disregarded. Not all of these stories that Paul refers to in passing can be found in the current canonical bible. But they are recorded for those who seek out their stories. And why did they endure this? What outcome might they have hoped for or expected?
“Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.” (verses 39 – 40)
Here we have the last clue to what Paul is getting at; what was started by them in their time (the faithful devotion and adherence to belief) was/is completed in our time – or more precisely in the time period that Paul is writing in. Question – are we in our modern time included in this? Or we as believers in the 21st Century a part of different era?
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1 – 2)
There are few things sadder than running a race that you were never destined to win. These early believers, ie those before Jesus Christ, knew what it was like to adhere to faith and be devoted. Their stories are testament to that. But the faith that was/is most perfect was not yet revealed, and would not be revealed until Jesus Christ came. The advantage is to us, who live in the light of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, however, blessed are those who have not seen but still believe. He was referring to at the time those who would believe in him and the Divine who sent him without having known him personally and first hand. I believe that can apply equally to those who lived and died in faith before Jesus Christ. Yes, Paul is probably sputtering at that!
Beloved reader, it is not enough to know . . . . about who Jesus Christ and the Divine is. It really is not enough either to believe in their existence. What is called for . . . . is to reconstruct with the help of the Holy Spirit one’s entire life and align it would the Divine who sent Jesus Christ. And once aligned, to never ever sway from it. Sad, terribly sad tragic things may happen to us – but not nearly as tragic as to miss living out a life of faith. Selah!