Persisting in faith

 

Contrary to popular belief, Scripture isn't essential for our faith. But it's hard to imagine faith without it. Our own experiences, coupled with the oral traditions of those who professed faith before us, should be sufficient to create, maintain and build our faith.

This process worked for the authors of Scripture, but it's a terrific gift to actually have in our hands written documents which mirror the faith of those who lived between 1,000 years before and 130 years after Christ. They're invaluable.

This seems to be why the unknown author of II Timothy writes, "All Scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for refutation, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that one who belongs to God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (II Tim 3: 14-4:2). Of course, we must remember that "all Scripture" here refers only to the Hebrew Scriptures.

How to learn

A bishop said something over 35 years ago that I've never forgotten. The North American College students he ordained had a meal in his honor before we left Rome to return to America. During the celebration, we thanked him for the way he dealt with us as our seminary rector. One of my classmates specifically mentioned, "You let us learn by our own mistakes."

Though appreciative of the young priest's remarks, the bishop didn't let the "mistake" comment pass unchallenged. "Men," he said, "only a darn fool learns from his own mistakes. The smart guy learns from the fool's mistakes!"

That's one reason, among many, that people of faith have turned to Scripture through the centuries. We don't want to make the same mistakes others have made before us. Sunday's three readings especially pound away at the mistake of "throwing in the towel."

Writing toward the end of the first Christian century, the disciple of Jesus who composed II Timothy knows how easy it is to give up, especially if people begin their faith-journey believing that the risen Jesus will return soon and triumphantly lead them into heaven. From his point of salvation history, he can only encourage his community to "hang in there."

"Proclaim the word," he writes: "be persistent, whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching."

In the same way, Moses' act of keeping his hands raised during Israel's battle with Amalek gives us something to remember when we're "up against it." As long as they're raised, his people win (Ex 17: 8-12). He doesn't dare give into tiredness lest he and the band of runaway slaves he leads will be slaughtered in the wilderness.

Persist

Luke seems to be the first author of the Christian Scriptures who concludes that he and everyone in his community will die a natural death before Jesus returns in the Parousia (Lk 18: 1-8). That's why throughout his double-volume work, he emphasizes persistence in faith.

In the Gospel, the persistence revolves around prayer. Luke's Jesus first gives an example of a widow who receives a favorable judgment from a dishonest judge only because she pounds away at him day after day. Then he mentions how God, who is not dishonest, "will secure the rights of His chosen ones who call out day and night." But lest Jesus' followers miss an essential dimension of faith, he quickly adds, "When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?"

In other words, God will take care of God's obligations. Our job is to take care of our obligations. When Jesus finally comes, we'll be the one judged, not God.

Thankfully, we have Scripture around to remind us of our faith's most basic element. It would be inexcusable not to be familiar with it. One of our biggest mistakes would be trying to do the faith-thing completely alone.

(10-18-01)