29 January 2011Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
"All of those died with having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth." (v. 13)
It can be argued that today's passage is probably the most
renowned in the entire letter to the Hebrews. It is a rousing piece
that lists famous Bible characters whose faith inspired them to
carry out heroic acts. It is traditional to link this portion of
Scripture to faith: all things are possible with it, and nothing
can be achieved without it. However, this passage is also very much
an account of the importance of personal sacrifice, and how this is
linked to faith.
These verses speak of individuals who gave up almost everything on account of their faith, to follow a Godly promise that did not bear dividends during their lifetime. In Abraham's situation, he abandoned what many would consider to be a very comfortable lifestyle for a nomadic, demanding one. He died without seeing what God had promised him. His son and grandson also shared his experience, and the writer illustrates that great acts of faith often involve great feats of self-sacrifice and self-denial.
Today's passage also suggests that following God is never a straightforward spiritual journey. Akin to Abraham's physical journey, the ultimate destination may be known, but the route probably remains imprecise. Equally, the journey may be long and arduous, and can take us to places not of our wishing. Sometimes, like Sarah, Abraham's wife, it finally ends with us receiving our desired wishes (verse 11). On other occasions, God chooses to respond in ways that appear unclear.
However what does remain clear throughout this passage of Scripture is that God was always with these brave men and women as they travelled along life's journey. What made them special was that they were obedient - they chose to answer God's initial call; they were faithful - they did not give up when the going got tough; and they were altruistic - they knew that someone else would benefit from their Godly efforts.
How can we learn from the saints who are mentioned in today's reading?
What are the arguments for and against 'instant' and 'deferred' gratification from a spiritual perspective?