19th Sunday in OT / C / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
When I was in college, I was very much drawn to Jungian psychology—the psychology of Carl Jung. Jung and others—Joseph Campbell for one—drew attention to the archetypal patterns in the stories and myths of the world, the themes that are repeated over and over, no matter what the culture or what the age.
The central archetype, the central story, found in all cultures (all the way down to Star Wars, Star Trek, and Lord of the Rings) is that of the hero’s journey. Typically, it goes this way: 1) the hero sets out from the known to the unknown, from the comfort of home into terra incognita, into the unknown. 2) In this unknown, our hero meets enemies and obstacles, dragons, ferocious beasts, high mountains, vast oceans, and so on. 3) If the hero is strong and fearless, he or she is able to overcome the obstacles; and 4) the hero lays claim to the land as his own, opening the way for others—who will benefit from the hero’s journey.
One can see this pattern everywhere. 1) In science. A scientist leaves the familiar research and goes to unknown and undiscovered areas—faces setbacks and failures, but eventually finally finds a cure. 2) An explorer. I’ve done a lot of study of the western United States, and the brave scouts and explorers (Lewis and Clark) who were the first Europeans to set foot in the unknown and see the mountains and the valleys we now call home. 3) Social development. A person like Martin Luther King who advanced the civil rights movement in this country. 4) Or even the little first grader who moves out the front door on the first day of school and begins a journey of discovery—and against all odds, achieves success that will benefit many generations.
We love this pattern of daring and success. And the Bible is full of these stories, but with one big distinction: the chief player and motivator of the hero’s journey is God. God is the one who prompts the hero to move beyond the comfortable and the known and to strike out into terra incognito—where no one has gone before.
God continually calls the people of Israel, and ourselves, to move out of darkness and into his glorious light.
And that brings me to the point of all of us: our second reading today from the Letter to the Hebrews.
The reading is about Abraham, our father in faith. Faith, here, could be defined as those willing to go on a hero’s journey, on God’s word, and little more than that.
We have this beautiful definition: "Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen."
Authentic faith is not something mindless, as our critics say. Authentic faith has to do with adventure, trying something new, straining forward. And that is what Abraham did, at 75, "as good as dead."
God called Abraham, and by faith, "he sojourned (from Ur) to the promised land," hopeful in God’s promise, and "looking forward to the city with foundations." And this faith, and promise, to Abraham benefitted all of his descendants, who were "as numerous as the stars in the sky."
One of those stars, one of those descendants, was Jesus Christ, the greatest hero of all, who emptied himself and took the form of a slave. Leaving his divine home, he came to live with us, in the "land of unlikeness." And through his death and Resurrection, brought life to the world.
That’s our hero, and we celebrate Him at this Eucharist.