A recent movie, "The Truman Show," tells the weird story of an individual whose entire life, unknown to him, has been televised all over the world for almost 30 years. Everyone with whom Truman comes into contact are actors (including his parents and his wife). His town is an enormous Hollywood set whose crew cues the sun to rise every morning and set every night. Truman is the only real person in a completely unreal world.

When a questioner challenges the director and creator of this bizarre production on how he successfully kept his charade going for so long, he responds with the movie's key line: "People accept how the world's presented to them." In other words, if something's presented as real, we usually accept it as real -- even if it isn't.

Had our sacred authors known about this movie, I'm certain that somehow they would have integrated its message into their writings. It perfectly meshes with a biblical frame of mind, especially as we hear it expressed in Sunday's readings.

Faith and reality

The authors of our three liturgical passages are concerned with conveying the necessity of faith in the lives of God's followers. Each writer believes that faith alone helps us determine the real in our world.

The opening line of the second reading (Heb 11:1-2, 8-19) sets the theme. "Faith," the author writes, "is confident assurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see." Only faith empowers us to go beyond appearances.

The author demonstrates this insight with multiple examples from the lives of Abraham and Sarah, our ancestors in the faith. "By faith, Abraham obeyed....By faith, he sojourned in the promised land....By faith, Sarah received power to conceive....By faith, Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac."

In each case, the real existed beyond the appearances which the couple experienced. The real was a loving God who, through faith, was leading them into a brand new, real world.

As the author of Wisdom reminds us (Wis 18:6-9), participants in the most important event in Jewish history -- the Exodus -- had to have faith in order to understand what was really happening.

"That night (of the Passover)," he writes, "was known beforehand to our ancestors, that, with sure knowledge of the oaths in which they put their faith, they might have courage." Only faith enabled them to see the life being offered them through the death of the Egyptians' firstborns.

Present reality

Yet, no matter how faith helped God's people pick out the real in the past, Luke is concerned that his community concentrate on a faith-interpreted present (Lk 12:32-48). Rooted in a Christian tradition in which people believed Jesus was going to return quickly in the Parousia, Luke sees the necessity to modify that faith for his readers.

All around him, he hears the lament, "My master is taking His time about coming." But instead of joining in the same chorus, Luke adapts his faith. He becomes the first Christian author to presume Jesus isn't going to return in his lifetime. He focuses his community's eyes on a different aspect of the reality around them. No longer are we to see the present simply as a preparation for the future. Now the present is perceived as having a value in itself.

For Luke, the "faithful, farsighted steward" isn't the person who can predict the exact time of the Parousia, but someone who lives as though the master's already at the door, demanding an account of what's happening right here and now. Spiritual Russian roulette is no longer in vogue. That seems to be the reason Jesus warns Luke's readers, "When much has been given someone, much will be required of that person. More will be asked of the individual to whom more has been entrusted." We'll be judged on a whole lifetime of ministry, not just on one instant in that lifetime.

Perhaps that's why Luke begins the Gospel with Jesus' consoling words: "Do not live in fear, little flock. It has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom." If the kingdom of God is presented as really existing in our everyday life, we'll live that life differently than if God's kingdom is presented only as a future reality.

The creator of "The Truman Show" is correct: Reality is in the presentation.

(08-06-98)