Second Reading: Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19

Two Aspects of Faith

Popular Translation

1 Doesn’t faith convince us that God is working in unseen ways right now? Doesn’t faith assure us that our hope for God’s future Kingdom is not in vain? 2 Even our ancestors told us about these things.

8 In faith, Abraham obeyed when he heard God’s call and went to a land that he would receive as an inheritance. But, when he left, he did not know where he was going. 9 In faith, he lived like a nomad in the land God promised him, as if it belonged to others. He passed on this life as a nomad on to his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob. But these two were also heirs to the same promises God made. 10 For Abraham yearned for the rock solid City God would design and build.

11 In faith, his wife Sarah became pregnant, even though she was too old to have children. She just knew that God would keep the promises he made.

12 All God’s people were born from one man who died a long time ago. Now they are like the number of the stars in the sky or the vast grains of sand on the sea shore.

13 In faith, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, and Jacob died, but they did not see God completely keep his promises. But they saw them and greeted them from a distance. They realized they were strangers and nomads on this earth. 14 For people who say such things make it clear they are really looking for a homeland. 15 If they were home sick for the place they had left, they had many opportunities to return. 16 No, they wanted a better homeland, a heavenly homeland. Because of their faith, God was not ashamed to be called their God. For he indeed prepared the City for them.

17 In faith, Abraham was tested and was going to offer Isaac to God. Just as he received God’s promises all over again, he was going to offer his only son to God. 18 God told Abraham, “Your descendants will come through Isaac.” 19 So, Abraham figured that God had the power to raise someone from the dead. And, by that same reasoning, he would receive his son back again.

Literal Translation

1 Faith IS the assurance of (that) being hoped (for), and (inner) test of (that) not being seen. 2 In this (matter) the ancients testified.

8 In faith, being called (by God), Abraham obeyed to go out to a place which he was about to receive as an inheritance, and he went out not understanding where he went. 9 In faith, he lived (as a nomad) in the Promised Land, as if belonging to others, having lived in tents with Isaac and Jacob, co-inheritors of the same promise. 10 For he yearned for the City having foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 In faith, Sarah, herself sterile, receive power for the foundation of (Abraham’s) seed, (even) in the time of (her) maturity, since she considered the (One) having promised faithful. 12 So, from one (man) (they) were born, and these of (him) having been death, just as the (great) number of the stars in the heavens, or as uncountable sand along the edge of the sea.

13 In faith, all these died, not having received (God’s) promises, but having seen them and hailed (them) from a distance, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and nomads on the earth. 14 For people saying such (things) make clear that they sought a homeland. 15 If indeed they reminisced about that (place) from which they departed, they had the time (of opportunity) to return again. 16 But now they strive for a better (homeland), that is of heaven. So God is not shamed (by) them to be called their God. For he prepared the City for them.

17 In faith, Abraham offered Isaac, the (patriarch) being tested, and he was offering his only born (son), the (patriarch) having received the promises again, 18 to whom it was spoken, “Through Isaac your seed will be called,” 19 having reasoned that God has the power to raise (someone) again from the dead, from where, by parable, he could obtain (his son) again.

11:1 In the author’s definition of faith, the Greek verb “is” stood first in the sentence for emphasis. The two qualities of faith in the definition were a view to the end times and a conviction of the unseen. In other words, the author held that God was presently working in unseen ways and would reveal his plan fully at the end of time. Faith was the conviction of God’s present actions and a sure hope of the Kingdom to come.

11:18 “Through Isaac your seed will be called.” While this quote was not from any verse in Genesis, it did sum up the way God would create his people.

What is Christian faith? There have been many definitions: the assent of the mind to God’s revelation or the acceptance of God’s will in life. But, the author of Hebrews defined faith as conviction and hope. The conviction that God was working in unseen ways right now. And the assurance that fed our hope that Jesus would return soon to complete the work God was doing.

Chapter 11 in Hebrews was an exploration into those two aspects of faith. This reading took only a few high points of the patriarchs as examples. First, the author showed Abraham lived a life of faith, since both his call and his lifestyle depended upon the present activity of God. He implied Abraham was sure about God working in his life, even in unseen ways. Abraham’s son and grandson would not only receive the patriarch’s wealth and nomadic ways, they would also receive the same virtue of utter dependance on their Maker. Even the matriarch Sarah had faith, since she conceived and bore Isaac in her old age.

Then, the author turned from the subject of sure dependance to the second aspect of faith, hope in the future. The author implied the promises God made had a logical conclusion that the patriarchs could see. Here, he described this conclusion in terms of life in a heavenly Jerusalem. Even though they were long passed away, the faith they professed encouraged this future view.

The author tied both aspects of faith together in the example of Genesis 22, the famous story of Abraham offering Isaac to God in a human sacrifice. This story has sparked much debate over the centuries. The author tried to resolve this controversy with the doctrine of the resurrection. Why would Abraham violate God’s law against human sacrifice, even though he was commanded by that same God to offer up Isaac? Because, the author reasoned, Abraham was so sure God would keep his promise of descendants through Isaac that the sacrifice itself would confirm God’s faithfulness. How could the sacrifice lead to this conclusion? God had the power to raise people from the dead. And, by extension, God would raise Isaac from the dead. So, God was faithful to his promise even in the face of such an unthinkable act.

The author of Hebrews had the same luxury we have, to see the history of God’s people through the lens of Jesus. He interpreted the lives of the great ones from the Old Testament through faith in Christ and his resurrection. But, notice, his point was not to confine the notion of faith to mere adherence of a “rearview mirror” gazing. No, his concern was for a conviction about the present and a hope in the future. His definition asked: Even though you can’t see it, are you convinced God is working in your life right now? Do you place your hope in God’s future? These two questions summed up his definition of faith.

Ask yourself the two questions in the paragraph above. Point out specific ways you can answer “yes” to both questions. Plan your week around your reflection.