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19th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Cycle C)

Readings:
Wisdom 18:6-9
Psalm 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20, 22
Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
Luke 12:32-48

Abbreviations: NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation).  CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).

God reveals His divine plan for humanity in the two Testaments, and that is why we read and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy.  The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).

The Theme of the Readings: Faith and Trust in God Gives Us Hope
Faith and trust in God give us hope for a destiny beyond our earthly existence.  How tragic it would be if life were simply a destiny in itself.  Knowing that life is a journey toward an eternal destiny gives it a purpose outside oneself, and it is faith in God that makes it a partnership in a meaningful future.  Today's readings address the passage through life and how we prepare for what lies beyond.  In the opening prayer, we ask God our Father to increase His Spirit within us and to bring us, at the end of our earthly exile, to our promised inheritance in our home that is the heavenly Kingdom of our divine Father.

In the First Reading, the Israelites' compliance with the commands God gave Moses on the night of the tenth Egyptian plague led to their salvation.  They demonstrated the same obedience of faith in their willingness to remember and relive the events of the Passover redemption according to God's command in every future generation (Ex 13:3-10).  It is in the remembrance feast of the sacred meal of the first Passover that Jesus offered Himself in the first Eucharistic meal of the Last Supper.  The reading shows us a contrast between God's judgment on the Egyptians and His protection of the Israelites and foreshadows the Final Judgment when God will extend His gift of eternal salvation to the righteous faithful while the disobedient and unbelieving sinners reap His righteous judgment.  The passage reminds us that God's protection of the faithful remnant of the just amid acts of divine judgment is a reoccurring theme in salvation history.  It is a theme that has its beginning in the great flood and the protection of Noah's family, to God's punishment of the Egyptians and redemption of the Israelites in the Exodus and continues to the Final Judgment at the end of time as we know it.

The Second Reading is from the roll call of the heroes of the faith in Hebrews Chapter 11. The chapter begins with the examples of the faith-filled lives of Abel, Enoch, and Noah before moving on to Abraham, a model of righteousness and faith in God and the subject of today's passage.  The inspired writer of Hebrews testifies that Abraham was willing to be obedient to God in the horrifying command to sacrifice his beloved son Isaac because he believed God would raise his son from death to fulfill His promise that it was through Isaac that God's covenant was to continue through many descendants.  Isaac is a type of Christ not only in being the "beloved son" offered for sacrifice by his father but in his salvation from death.

The Gospel Reading concerns Jesus' challenge to His disciples to make a radical choice by casting their lives entirely into God's hands by selling all they had in earthly goods to store up an "inexhaustible treasure in heaven."  Then, still addressing the disciples, Jesus changed the topic from concern about worldly possessions to a warning about being watchful and faithful servants. Jesus warns that the focus in this life should be on fidelity to Him and being prepared for His promised return in glory when He will judge the living and the dead.

Today, you are the watchful and faithful servants who remember and relive Jesus' last meal with His disciples in which He offered those assembled in the Upper Room in Jerusalem His Body and Blood in a new sacred meal that established a new and eternal covenant (Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:24-25).  However, it is not the blood of lambs and goat-kids that is our sacrifice of salvation as it was on the night of the first Passover/Unleavened Bread feast; it is the blood of the Lamb of God who died on the altar of the Cross for the sins of humanity.  And it is through Jesus' "Passover" from death to life that we renew our New Covenant commitment in every sacred meal of the Eucharist that brings us closer to fulfilling our eternal destiny at the Banquet of the Just in the heavenly kingdom.

The First Reading Wisdom 18:6-9 ~ The Salvation of the Just
6 The night of the Passover was known beforehand to our fathers, that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, they might have courage.  7 Your people awaited the salvation of the just and the destruction of their foes.  8 For when you punished our adversaries, in this you glorified us whom you had summoned.  9 For in secret the holy children of the good were offering sacrifice and putting into effect with one accord the divine institution.

The focus of Wisdom Chapters 11-18 is the providence of God during the Exodus with the theme of the salvation of the just and the destruction of the wicked.  After an introduction (Wis 11:2-5), there are five examples of God's providence:

Our reading is within the fifth example and recalls the night of the first Passover in Egypt (Ex 12:1-36).  The passage reflects on the event when the Israelites, obedient to the instructions God gave them through Moses, offered a sacrifice to God (Ex 12:3-14).  Every household sacrificed a yearling lamb or goat-kid and smeared its blood from the threshold to the lintel and each doorpost in the sign of a cross.  Their faith in God gave them the courage to perform the sacrifice and to eat the sacred meal of the Passover victims within their homes as the angel of death "passed over," and God spared their firstborn sons.  The Israelites' obedience of faith led to their salvation, and their continuing obedience of faith led to their willingness to remember and relive the events of the Passover judgment and salvation according to God's command for every future generation (Ex 13:3-10).  Notice the contrast between God's protection of the Israelites and His judgment on the Egyptians.  God's protection of the faithful remnant of the just amid divine retribution is a reoccurring theme in salvation history (i.e., the salvation of Noah's family in the Great Flood judgment, saving Lot's family in the destruction of Sodom, etc.).

Sacrifice, oath swearing, and a sacred meal are the means of forming Biblical covenants (c.f., Gen 32:44, 53-54; Ex 24:5, 11).  For our generations of New Covenant oath keepers (the word "sacrament" means "oath"), we remember and relive Jesus' last Passover and sacred meal in which He offered His disciples assembled in the Upper Room in Jerusalem His Body and Blood in a new sacred meal that established a new and eternal covenant (Lk 22:19-20; 1 Cor 11:24-25).  However, it is not the blood of lambs and goat-kids that is our sacrifice of salvation; it is the blood of the Lamb of God who died on the altar of the Cross for the sins of humanity (Jn 1:29).  And it is through our remembrance of Jesus' "Passover" from death to life in His crucifixion and resurrection that we renew our covenant and the hope that our final destination.  We relive those events and our hope of eternal salvation every time we partake of the sacred meal of the Eucharist that looks back in time to the Last Supper and forward in time to the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb and His Bride in our Lord's eternal kingdom (Rev 19:7-9).

Responsorial Psalm 33:1, 12, 18-19, 20, 22 ~ Our Hope is in God
The response is: Blessed the people the Lord has chosen to be his own.

1 Exult, you just, in the LORD [YHWH]; praise from the upright is fitting. 12 Blessed the nation whose God is the LORD [YHWH], the people he had chosen for his own inheritance.
Response:
18 See, the eyes of the LORD [YHWH] are upon those who fear him, upon those who hope for his kindness, 19 to deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine.
Response:
20 Our soul waits for the LORD [YHWH], who is our help and our shield.

Response:
22 May your kindness, O LORD [YHWH], be upon us who have put our hope in you.
Response:

Psalm 33 is a hymn in which the psalmist invites the just/righteous to praise God (verses 1-3) who created the three-tiered universe of the heavens, the cosmic waters, and the earth (verses 6-9).  Human endeavors, by contrast, count for nothing (verses 10-11).  Humanity must have reverence for God, to fear offending Him, and to place their hope in His power to deliver them from evil in the world.  The greatness that can be achieved by human beings is through God choosing them as His agents in the unfolding events of salvation history and in their faithful response to His will with the knowledge that He is the hope of their salvation (verses 12-21).  The hymn ends with the people proclaiming that they place their faith and trust in the Lord (verses 20-22).

The Second Reading Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19 ~ The Power of Faith that leads to the Heavenly Jerusalem
1 Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.  2 Because of it the ancients were well attested.  [...] 8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.  9 By faith he sojourned in the Promised Land as in a foreign country. Dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.  11 By faith he 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.  12 So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.  13 And these died in faith.  They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, 14 for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.  15 If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return.  16 But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.  17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, 18 of whom it was said, "Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name."  19 He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.

The previous Chapter in the Letter to the Hebrews concluded with a warning from Habakkuk 2:4 (from the Greek translation of the Old Testament known as the Septuagint) in Hebrews 10:38, But my just (righteous) one shall live by faith, and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him. Following the warning is the encouraging statement: We are not among those who draw back and perish (Heb 10:39).  The unidentified inspired writer (believed to be St. Paul) encourages his audience in verse 39 that not only will we "not draw back," but we are among those who have faith and will possess life!  This statement is the opening line in what follows in our reading that presents a discourse on the history of the hope and the persevering faith of the people of God.

However, the statement in 11:1, Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen, is not meant to be a definition of faith.  Instead, his statement is meant to express the unseen hope of the faithful which culminates in the realization of that hope when the faithful come into the possession of the promises of God in the eternal reality of the heavenly Jerusalem.  It is the city the inspired writer alludes to in 11:16, But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

The Catholic Dictionary defines faith as "The acceptance of the word of another, trusting that one knows what the other is saying and is honest in telling the truth.  The basic motive of all faith is the authority (or right to be believed) of someone who is speaking.  [..].  It is called divine faith when the one believed is God, and human faith when the persons believed are human beings.  (Etym. Latin 'fides', belief; habit or faith; object of faith)."  The Catechism of the Catholic Church identifies "faith" as "a gift of God, a supernatural virtue infused by him" (CCC 153).  And the Catechism also defines "faith" as one of the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and love: "Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself.  By faith 'man freely commits his entire self to God.'  For this reason, the believer seeks to know and do God's will.  'The righteous shall live by faith.'  Living faith "work[s] through charity" (CCC# 1814, quoting Romans 1:17 and Galatians 5:6).  Also see CCC# 156; 162; 1815-16

The statement concerning "faith" in Hebrews 11:1, therefore, summarizes what the inspired writer will be covering in this section of his letter.  He begins with the unseen promises made to a series of faithful men and women who believed in God's promises in Israel's historical past and culminates by picturing the realization of that unseen hope in a future glimpse of God's heavenly Jerusalem in Hebrews 12:22-24.  These heroes and heroines are the same "witnesses" who surround all the faithful on earth in Hebrews 12:1, Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us... This "cloud of witnesses," the communion of heavenly saints, watches the progression of salvation history and prays for their younger brothers and sisters in faith from the heavenly Jerusalem.  See CCC#946-48; 953; 960.

Hebrews Chapter 11, often called the "Heroes of the Faith," begins with the examples of the faith-filled lives of Abel, Enoch, and Noah before moving to Abraham.  The inspired writer of Sirach also praises Abraham: Abraham, the great ancestor of a host of nations, no one was ever his equal in glory.  He observed the Law of the Most High, and entered into a covenant with him.  He confirmed the covenant in his own flesh, and proved himself faithful under ordeal.  The Lord, therefore, promised him on oath to bless the nations through his descendants, to multiply him like the dust on the round, to exalt his descendants like the stars, and to give them the land as their heritage, from one sea to the other, from the River to the ends of the earth (Sir 44:19-21).

8 By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go.
God first called Abraham when he was living in the city of Ur of the Chaldeans (Gen 11:28-31; 15:7; Neh 9:7).  God told him to go to an unidentified land: Yahweh said to Abram, "Leave your country, your kindred and your father's house for a country which I shall show you" (Gen 12:1 NJB). The unnamed land to which he was to go was territory given to Abraham's ancestor Shem, the righteous firstborn son of Noah, but which had been usurped by the descendants of Canaan, son of Shem's disgraced brother Ham (Gen 9:25-27; 10:6-7).

Abraham (called Abram at the time) continued living with his father and his extended family, journeying westward toward the land of Canaan but settling instead with his father in Haran in what is today modern Syria.  It wasn't until after his father died (when Abraham was 75 years old) that he took his wife and nephew and completed the journey (Gen 11:31-32; 12:4-7; Acts 7:4).  Abraham was slow in acting on his faith at the beginning of his relationship with Yahweh, but God was patient.  We don't need to have great faith that moves mountains to please God.  If we, even in small ways, step forward in faith, God is always ready to reward our efforts by increasing our faith and strengthening our relationship with Him.

Abraham had to have faith in God to complete his journey and receive the promise God made to him in Genesis 12:1-3.  He was unfamiliar with the land to which God had called him, and not having seen it, he had to have faith that it was the place of his destiny and the hope for the future of his family.  The place where he was living when he first received God's call was a center of pagan culture, and his father was a pagan (Josh 24:2).  Abraham had no idea what was waiting for him in the unknown land God promised him.

9 By faith he sojourned in the Promised Land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs of the same promise; 10 for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God.
Abraham did not live to see God's promises fulfilled (Acts 7:5).  Yahweh repeated His promises to Abraham's son Isaac and his son Jacob in Genesis 17:19; 26:3-5; and 28:14.  The inspired writer of Sirach in 44:20 relates that God entered into a covenant with Abraham, and He confirmed the covenant in his own flesh through circumcision (Gen 17:9-14).  Abraham's faith (see Gen 15:6; 22:1; Rom 4:1-25; and Gal 3:6-14) secured the covenant that was passed on to his descendants: To Isaac too, for the sake of Abraham his father, he assured the blessing of all humanity; he caused the covenant to rest on the head of Jacob (Sir 44:22-23a NJB).

The inspired writer of Hebrews declares concerning Abraham: By faith he sojourned in the Promised Land as in a foreign country (Heb 11:9).  Like Abraham, we also sojourn in a land that is not our own while longing for our Promised Land (see 1 Pt 1:16-19).  We must renounce this world if we want to be saved from it to inherit the better land which has been promised to us, for we are looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God (Heb 11:10)In the meantime, we are exiles on this temporal earth who long for the heavenly kingdom of which we have been declared citizens by our Priest-king Jesus Christ.  As St. Peter advised the Church: Now if you invoke as Father him who judges impartially according to each one's works, conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct, handed on by your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver or gold but with the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb (1 Pt 1:16-19).

11 By faith he 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.  12 So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore.
Abraham was 99 and Sarah 89 when God foretold Abraham that Sarah would bear a son (see Gen 17:1, 19, 24; 21:2), and they were 100 and 90 respectively when Isaac was born.  Isaac's birth was a miracle and from that miracle came a nation, and beyond that nation of Israel came the many generations of Christians who St. Paul identifies and the legitimate progeny of Abraham: And if you belong to Christ then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to the promise (Gal 3:29).

In verse 11, the inspired writer is correct in indicating that it was Sarah who was sterile and not Abraham.  Ishmael was Abraham's son by an Egyptian servant girl, born during Sarah's lifetime, and after Sarah's death, Abraham remarried and had six more sons in addition to Ishmael and Isaac (Gen 25:1-6).  Relying solely on faith, both Sarah and Abraham had to accept God's promise of descendants.  Their common human experience told them that an elderly man and a woman whose period of fertility had come to an end would never produce a child.  After attempting to bring God's promise to fruition on their own merits, a plan which resulted in the birth of Ishmael by the slave girl Hagan and the resulting family discord, in their old age both Sarah and Abraham yielded in faith to God's plan, despite seemingly insurmountable physical obstacles.  The result was a miraculous birth of a promised son, Isaac.  Hebrews 10:12 quotes from Genesis 22:17: So it was that there came forth from one man, himself as good as dead, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sands on the seashore and compares the one man of faith, Abraham, with the multitude of men and women who descend from him.

In Genesis 17:22 (and repeated several other times in Scripture) God promised Abraham many descendants, using two different metaphors: descendants as numerous as the sands on the seashore and as numerous as the stars in the sky (see Heb 11:12; Gen 15:5; 22:17; Ex 32:13; Dan 3:36 [LXX]; and Sir 44:21).  St. Justin Martyr makes an interesting comparison between these two ways of expressing the promise of numerous descendants as both stars and sand.  He compares the offspring of Abraham through the "promised seed" of Isaac and his son, Jacob and those other men descended through the lines of the other sons of these men: "Notice how the Lord makes the same promise to Isaac and Jacob.  Here are the Lord's words to Isaac: 'By your descendants, all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.'  And to Jacob: 'By you and your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed.'  But the Lord does not address this blessing to Esau or to Reuben or to any other, but only to them from whom Christ was to come through the Virgin Mary in accordance with the divine plan of our redemption.  If you were to think over the blessing of Judah, you would see which I mean, for the seed is divided after Jacob and comes down through Judah and Perez and Jesse and David.  Now, this was a sign that some of you Jews would certainly be children of Abraham and at the same time share in the lot of Christ, but that other, also children of Abraham, would be like the sand on the beach, which, though vast and extensive, is barren and fruitless, not bearing any fruit at all, but only drinking up the water of the sea (Dialogue with Trypho 120, Justin Martyr, martyred circa 155AD).  It was through men of faith that the promise continued and found fulfillment in the many generations of Christians across the face of the earth.

Hebrews 11:13-16 ~ Promise of the Heavenly Jerusalem
13 All these died in faith.  They did not receive what had been promised but saw it and greeted it from afar and acknowledged themselves to be strangers and aliens on earth, 14 for those who speak thus show that they are seeking a homeland.  15 If they had been thinking of the land from which they had come, they would have had opportunity to return.  16 But now they desire a better homeland, a heavenly one.  Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
All these: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob died in faith without having received their promised inheritance. What was their promised inheritance, and why didn't they receive it in life or in death?  Did they ever receive the city God prepared for them?   Except for Enoch, Elijah, all the Old Testament Patriarchs and all men and women, including Jesus and the inspired writer's ancient and modern audience, experienced or will succumb to physical death.  However, before Jesus' Resurrection, no human, no matter how righteous, could enter the gates of heaven (CCC#1026).  Heaven had been "closed" since the fall of our original parents.  All the dead, both the righteous and sinners in need of purification went to Sheol, the grave/netherworld (Hades in the Greek) to await the coming of the Redeemer.

All the Old Testament faithful and unfaithful waited for the coming of the Messiah who, according to St. Peter, preached the Gospel of salvation to the dead: ...he also went to preach to the spirits in prison, who had once been disobedient while God patiently waited in the days of Noah during the building of the ark (1 Pt 3:19-20) and For this is why the Gospel was preached even to the dead they, though condemned in the flesh in human estimation, they might live in the spirit in the estimation of God. (1 Pt 4:6).  Also see Ephesians 4:7-10.  With these souls rescued from the grave, Christ stormed the gates of heaven: "By his death and Resurrection, Jesus Christ has "opened" heaven to us.  The life of the blessed consists in the full and perfect possession of the fruits of the redemption accomplished by Christ.  He makes partners in his heavenly glorification those who have believed in him and remained faithful to his will.  Heaven is the blessed community of all who are perfectly incorporated into Christ" (CCC 1026).

We often assume that the Old Testament people of God were ignorant of the full implications God's promise to send a Redeemer-Messiah, but the depth of their faith shows that they had a far better grasp of the future reality than we give them credit for understanding.  Origen wrote concerning their knowledge of God's promise of eternal salvation: "The saints who preceded Jesus' bodily sojourn, who had a somewhat greater mental grasp than the majority of believers, received the mysteries of divinity because the word of God was teaching them even before he became flesh, for he was always working, being an imitator of his Father of whom he says, 'My Father is working still.'  He says, perhaps to the Sadducees who do not believe in the doctrine of the resurrection, 'Have you not read in the book of Moses, in the passage about the bush, how God said to him, "I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?"  He is not God of the dead, but of the living.'  If, therefore, God 'is not ashamed to be called the God' of these people, and they are numbered among the living by Christ, and all the believers are sons of Abraham, since all the nations are blessed in the faithful Abraham whom God appointed father of the nations, are we hesitant to accept that the living have known the lessons of the living, since they were instructed by Christ, who has existed before the morning star, before he became flesh?" (Origen, On the Gospel of John, 6.17-18).

Hebrews 11:13-16 answers the questions:
1. Was it the physical land of Canaan that God was promising Abraham, or was there something more?

2. Did Abraham ever succeed in possessing the land of Canaan?

In the Old Testament, the Promised Land of Canaan was a temporal "type" that prefigured a greater spiritual reality which was the true "Promised Land" of Heaven.  The three promises God made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 of land/a kingdom, numerous descendants, and a world-wide blessing remained unfulfilled in his lifetime.  It is true that his descendants, the new generation of the children of Israel, conquered the Canaanites after the Exodus experience and forty years in the wilderness.  They drove out most of the Canaanite population, and their descendants established an Israelite confederation succeeded by an Israelite monarchy.  However, the Northern Kingdom of Israel lost its national independence as a state in the Assyrian conquest in the 8th century BC, and later the Kingdom of Judah lost its national status in the 6th century BC with the Babylonian conquest.  The independent state of Judah was re-established briefly under the leadership of the Maccabees and their descendants, the Hasmonean kings, in the 2nd century BC, but the Romans conquered and dominated the Jews again beginning in 63 BC.  Israel didn't become an independent country again until a United Nations decree in 1947 granting independence in 1948.  Until that time, a nation named Israel hadn't existed since 722 BC.  The recreation of the state of Israel in one day fulfilled Isaiah's prophecy that the time would come when a country for Israel would be created in a day (Is 66:8)!

The possession of the "Promised Land" and the additional promises of a Kingdom and a world-wide blessing remained unfulfilled in Abraham's lifetime.  However, true to His word, God fulfilled those promises in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Abraham's heir, Jesus of Nazareth (Mt 1:1).   With the coming of the Divine Messiah, at His baptism, the gates of heaven were opened (Mt 3:16), and all who came to God through Jesus Christ with the faith of Abraham became heirs of Abraham's promise of the Promised Land of Heaven and citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Finally, as the disciples of Jesus carried the Gospel of salvation to the ends of the earth (Mt 28:19-20), and God's gift of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ brought forth many "children" for the Kingdom in a world-wide blessing (see CCC# 536; 1026).

Hebrews 11:17-19 ~ Abraham's Test of Faith
17 By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, 18 of whom it was said, "Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name."  19 He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead, and he received Isaac back as a symbol.
Abraham's test of faith came in Genesis chapter 22:1-3 when God commanded him to offer in sacrifice the beloved "son of the promise" (Gen 17:18-21), Isaac: It happened sometime later that God put Abraham to the test. 'Abraham, Abraham!' he called.  'Here I am,' he replied.  God said, 'Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, where you are to offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall point out to you.'  Such a test of faith is also called a "covenant ordeal."  It is the same kind of "covenant ordeal" that Adam and Eve faced when confronted by the Serpent in the Garden of Eden.  But this is Isaac's covenant ordeal as well as Abraham because he also had to submit in faith.

The inspired writer of Hebrews says that Abraham was willing to be obedient to God in this horrifying request because Abraham believed God's promise to him that this son through whom God's covenant was to continue would have as many descendants as many as the stars in the sky.  Abraham believed that God was faithful to His promises; therefore. God was capable of raising his son from the dead to fulfill His promise.  But is there any proof of the inspired writer of Hebrew's interpretation in the text of Genesis 22:1-19?  In Genesis 22:5, Abraham told his servants to stay behind with the donkey and that he and Isaac would return.  That Abraham told the servants that both of them would return supports the interpretation that he believed the boy would survive the "covenant ordeal."

What does the inspired writer mean when he says in verse 19 that Abraham received Isaac back "as a symbol"?  On the 3rd day after beginning the journey (Gen 22:4), Abraham received his son back from death.  The writer of Hebrews uses the same word to describe Isaac as are used to describe Jesus' relationship to God the Father.  He received back from God in His mercy his "only son" (see Gen 22:2 and Jn 1:14), his "beloved" son (see Gen 22:2 and Mt 3:17; Mk 1:11; Lk 3:22) as a symbol of Christ and the Resurrection on "the third day."

The frightening Old Testament "covenant ordeal" of Abraham and Isaac is full of sacrificial imagery of Christ's Passion and in Hebrew is known as the "Akedah," the binding of Isaac."  Commenting on Hebrews 11:19, Theodoret, Bishop of Cry wrote: "Figuratively speaking, he did receive him back," that is, by way of a symbol and type of the resurrection.  Put to death by his father's zeal, he came back to life at the word of the one who prevented the slaughter.  In him, the type of the saving passion was also prefigured.  Hence the Lord also said to the Jews, 'Your father Abraham rejoiced at the prospect of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad'" (Interpretation of Hebrews 11, Theodoret, Bishop of Cry/Cyrrhus) 393-466 AD).

What parallels do you see between Isaac and Jesus?  How is Isaac a "type" of Christ? 

Isaac is a Biblical "type" of Jesus Christ
Comparisons between the "offering up" of Isaac in sacrifice found in Genesis 22:1-18 and the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ:

How is it that, as a result of Abraham's obedience in offering up Isaac for sacrifice, he fills a unique role in the lives of all believers?   It is a teaching of the Church that in offering up his physical son Isaac that Abraham becomes the spiritual father of all believers.  Abraham realized his covenant ordeal had implications beyond what he and his son faced.  He told his son when Isaac first realized there was no lamb for the sacrifice: "Yahweh will provide," meaning Yahweh would provide the sacrifice.  And later, when Abraham offered up the ram in place of the life of his son, Abraham names the place "Yahweh will-provide" [Yahweh yireh] in the future tense.  It is a name that looks forward in time to the offering up on that same mountain, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world by providing the sacrifice of Himself.  In Romans 4:16-17, St. Paul writes concerning Abraham's faith: That is why the promise is to faith, so that it comes as a free gift and is secure for all the descendants, not only those who rely on the Law but all those others who rely on the faith of Abraham, the ancestor of us all as Scripture says: 'I have made you the father of many nations.'  Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into existence what does not yet exist.  Now both Jews and Gentiles come to God through His beloved Son, the one Lord, Jesus Christ, and are incorporated into one holy covenant family.  See CCC 2570-72

The Fathers of the Church saw Isaac as prefiguring Christ.  Clement of Alexandria wrote of Isaac as a type of Christ not only in being offered for sacrifice by his father but in his name, which means "laughter": "Isaac is a type of the infant Lord as son, and, in fact, Isaac was the son of Abraham as Christ is of God, victim as was the Lord.  But he was not cut down like the Lord; no, Isaac only carried the wood of the sacrifice, as the Lord did his cross.  He laughed mystically by way of prophesying that the Lord fills us with joy, we who have been redeemed by his blood.  He did not suffer but left to the Logos, as is fitting, the first fruits of suffering.  What is more, because he was not immolated, he signifies also the divinity of the Lord.  For after his burial, Jesus was raised up, thus leaving suffering behind, just as Isaac had escaped the sacrifice" (Clement, Christ the Educator, 1.5.23.1-2).

The Gospel of Luke 12:32-48 ~ In Faith Prepare for the Promises of the Lord
32 Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your belongings and give alms.  Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.  34 For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be." 35 "Gird your loins and light your lamps 36 and be like servants who await their master's return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.  37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.  Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.  38 And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.  39 Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  40 You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come." 41 Then Peter said, "Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?  42 And the Lord replied, "Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?  43 Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.  Truly, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.  45 But if that servant says to himself, "My master is delayed in coming,' and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 then that servant's master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.  47 That servant who knew his master's will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; 48 and the servant who was ignorant of his master's will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly.  Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.

32 Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom.  33 Sell your belongings and give alms.  Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy.  34 For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be."
Earlier Jesus referred to the disciples as His "friends" (Lk 12:4), and now He calls them His "little flock."  They are His heirs and the faithful remnant of Israel that will become the seed from which His Kingdom will grow to claim dominion over the earth.  Jesus challenges them in verses 33-34 to make a radical choice and to cast their lives entirely into God's hands by selling all they have to store up an "inexhaustible treasure in heaven."  In Matthew 19:29, He told them if they were willing to give up everything to follow Him, their reward would be greater than what they gave up, and now in Luke's Gospel, He offers them that choice.  There is probably an echo in verse 32 of the Prophet Daniel's prophecy: Then the kingship and dominion and majesty of all the kingdoms under the heavens shall be given to the holy people of the Most High, whose kingdom shall be everlasting: all dominions shall serve and obey him (Dan 7:27).

Luke 12:35-40 ~ Two Parables on Being Ready for the Master's Return
35 "Gird your loins and light your lamps 36 and be like servants who await their master's return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.  37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.  Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.  38 And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.  39 Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  40 You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."

To "gird" one's self in verse 35 expresses the condition of wearing a sash or belt to tuck up a long tunic to be ready for action.  It can also mean readiness for service.  Jesus' instruction to the disciples is similar to those God told Moses to give the Israelites at the first Passover when the Israelites were instructed to be in readiness for a hasty departure from Egypt (see Ex 12:11, 22-23). In this parable, Jesus compares Himself to a master returning at an unknown hour from a wedding and expecting His servants to be ready for His return.

38 And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants.
In Jesus' time, the daytime divided into twelve seasonal hours (Jn 11:9) and the night into four night watches.  The 2nd Watch was from 9 PM to midnight, and the 3rd Watch was from midnight to 3 AM.  The trumpet that announced the change of the watch at 3 AM was called "the cockcrow" (in Mk 13:35 Jesus lists the names of the four night watches).  If the servants are vigilant, Jesus says they will receive a blessing that is also a contradiction according to the customs of the times; instead of the servants waiting on the Master, the Master waits on the servants at a banquet in His house as a reward for their vigilance.

Later, Jesus will identify Himself at the Last Supper as the one who serves when He tells the disciples: "Rather, let the greatest among you be as the youngest, and the leader as the servant.  For who is greater: the one seated at table or the one who serves?  Is it not the one seated at table?  I am among you as the one who serves" (Lk 22:26-27, underlining added).

The symbolic elements of the parable:
The Master Jesus
The servants The disciples
The master's  house The Church
The wedding The wedding of the Lamb and His Bride in heaven (Rev 19:7-8)
The banquet the master prepares for the servants The eschatological banquet in the heavenly kingdom in which all of the Master's servants of every age will take part (Rev 19:9)

There are several eschatological overtones to this parable.  For the first time, Jesus gives a shadowy allusion to His "exodus" from the earth (the word used in the Transfiguration event in Lk 9:31 in the Greek text) and His delay in returning.  Later, at the Last Supper in the Gospel of St. John, the disciples will learn that He must return to the Father for a time (Jn 13:33-14:3), and at His Ascension the angels promise His return at an unknown time (Mt 24:36-44; Acts 1:11).

In the second very short parable, Jesus says: "Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into" (verse 39).  Jesus speaks of the suddenness of a burglar breaking into an unguarded house and compares that event to His sudden return at the end of the age.  When Jesus suddenly returns in His glory, it will be to gather all people of all nations of the earth for the Resurrection of the Dead and the Last Judgment (1 Thess 4:16-18).  Jesus' sudden return will find some professing Christians prepared like the faithful and vigilant servants of the Master's house (the Church), but many people of the world will be unaware and unprepared.  Jesus concludes this part of His teaching with the warning: 40 "You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come," using His favorite title for Himself, "Son of Man," an allusion to the prophet Daniel's vision (Dan 7:13; concerning Jesus "Second Coming" also see CCC 366, 998, 1001, 1038, 1038-1041, Mt 25:31-46; Jn 5:28-29; Acts 24:15; 1 Thes 4:16; 2 Thes 1:5-10).

Luke 12:41-48 ~ A warning for Peter, the Apostles, and the Future Leaders of the Church
41 Then Peter said, "Lord, is this parable meant for us or for everyone?  42 And the Lord replied, "Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time?  43 Blessed is that servant whom his master on arrival finds doing so.  Truly, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property.  45 But if that servant says to himself, "My master is delayed in coming,' and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 then that servant's master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.  47 That servant who knew his master's will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; 48 and the servant who was ignorant of his master's will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly.  Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more."
A steward was the Master's chief servant and exercised the Master's power and authority over the other servants.  He was responsible for everything in the Master's house and kept the keys to every door.  In the description of the authority of Eliakim, the steward of the King of Judah, Isaiah writes: I shall place the key of David's palace on his shoulder; when he opens, no one will close, when he closes, no one will open.  I shall drive him like a nail into a firm place; and he will become a throne of glory for his family (Is 22:22-23).  When Jesus invested Simon-Peter as His chief Steward/Vicar, Jesus told him: "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven: whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven; whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:19-20).

What is the answer to Peter's question to Jesus in verse 41?  Who is the steward Jesus refers to in verse 42?  See Mt 16:13-20.  The obvious answer to Peter's question is that the teaching is for them.  Then, in verse 42, Jesus asks Peter, who is the faithful and prudent steward put in charge of distributing the food allowance at the proper time?  When have the apostles distributed food?  See Mt 14:13-21; 15:32-38; Mk 6:32-44; Lk 9:10-17.  The answer is that Peter is the Master's steward.  He and the Apostles distributed the food in Jesus' feeding miracles (c.f., Mt 14:19-21; 15:35-38).  The answer is also the future chief stewards (the Popes), and the other servants/priests of the Church who will be responsible for distributing the holy food of the Eucharist in the celebration of the Mass just as the Apostles distributed the food in the miracle feedings of the 5 thousand and 4 thousand which prefigured the miracle feeding of the Eucharist.

45 But if that servant says to himself, "My master is delayed in coming," and begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, 46 then that servant's master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful.
Drunkenness is one of the signs of the Old Testament prophets symbolizing rebellion against God and the abuse of His blessings.  The unfaithful servants in this verse that Jesus alludes to are abusing the gift of the Eucharist: the food allowance given at the "proper time" of worship in verse 42.

In describing the fate of Jesus' servants who abuse their authority in verse 45, Jesus is using a typical example of the times.  His point is if an earthly master rightly punishes his servants for bad behavior, then one should also expect that the Divine Master will also punish His servants who fail in their mission by abusing their authority.  Those professed servants, however, who were not adequately instructed and failed in their service, will be punished less severely than those who knew better; however, they will still receive a punishment.

So, what does that warning imply in the context of the modern Church?  It means the judgment will be more severe for the servants/leaders of the Church who fail because they have the knowledge of the fullness of faith and know what the divine Master expects from them.  The presupposition in these sayings in verses 47-48 is that those who are instructed by the Master with tasks in His household (the Church) will also receive the ability to carry them out.  Therefore, the Lord will tolerate no excuses for failure or bad behavior from His servants who are responsible for taking care of the children of His household, the members of His Church!

Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2013; revised 2019

Catechism References (*indicates Scripture quoted or paraphrased in the citation):
Wisdom 18:13 (CCC 441*)

Psalm 33:6 (CCC 292*, 703*)

Hebrews 11:1 (CCC 146); 11:2 (CCC 147); 11:8 (CCC 145); 11:17 (CCC 145*, 2572); 11:19 (CCC 2572)

Luke 12:32 (CCC 764); 12:35-40 (2849*)