Several years ago when I spent those few months in Storrington, the new and young parish priest told a story at Sunday Mass which I told myself as a young priest, and I’m sure some of you have heard it at least once. Clearly, it has become a classic story to tell at Sunday Mass from time to time. It’s the story about an elderly woman who crossed the Brazilian border with Peru each day on a motor scooter, with a sack of sand strapped to her back. The customs officer eventually became suspicious and asked her what she had in the sack. ‘Only sand’ came the reply. The officer emptied the sack and, sure enough, all he found was sand. And so on it went month after month; the woman would drive up on a scooter each day with a sack of sand strapped to her back. After a while the border guard became curious as to what her true mission was each day and, after promising not to report her to the police, asked her if she was really smuggling. ‘Yes, I am smuggling’, she said. ‘But what?’ the officer asked bewildered; “I’m smuggling Motor Scooters!” No matter how many times you hear that well-worn story, you still have to smile!
I think the story has become a classic, because it illustrates well how we can be led, by what we see or hear, in completely the wrong direction. Our minds race ahead of our senses so that we draw the wrong conclusions, and we fool ourselves. The poor border guard had his suspicions drawn to the bag of sand strapped to the woman’s back which, as it happens, turns out to be entirely innocent. And yet he paid no attention at all to the numerous different motor scooters on which she was riding each day.
Every so often, we need to be nudged away from our usual ways of thinking if we are to avoid making bad mistakes. All of us need to re-assess our way of looking at life. And, in today’s Gospel, Our Lord calls us, once again, to re-think our way of living. In effect he says: Look again, because things are not always what they seem. It may be quiet and peaceful at the moment, but at a time you do not expect the Son of Man will return, like a thief in the night. And you can all imagine the dreadful feeling of waking up in the middle of a blissful sleep to find a burglar rummaging through your house. In the same way, will Our Lord’s Second Coming send you into a blind panic? I certainly hope not. I hope it’s something you are constantly preparing for.
Whatever faith we possess is a gratuitous gift from God, and it enables us to view life in a totally new way: in fact, faith enables us to see life as Christ sees it. Now, faith doesn’t demand that we dispense with all human and rational ways of thinking, but it does demand a vision that goes beyond the usual human patterns of thought.
Our faith is firmly founded on Sacred Scripture. The parchments that the evangelists and disciples used to record the events of Our Lord’s life have, in the most part, long since disappeared. And it’s highly unlikely that after such a long time any other original documentation will ever be discovered. But there can be no doubt at all that what we read today in the Scriptures and particularly in the four gospels is substantially what Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote. No serious scripture scholar would dispute that. And in the today’s gospel we find a sentence of Our Lord that is one of the earliest ever to be recorded, a mere 20 years after his death: “The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.”
Our faith is founded on scripture, but it’s also founded on history. Just as the writer to the Hebrews in today’s second reading found sound evidence in the Old Testament for his belief in Christ, so we, in the history of the Church, find every reason to accept Our Lord’s claims as true. The success of the disciples after our Lord’s Resurrection and the continuing proofs of holiness in the Church since then, suggest the reasonableness of our present-day conviction that Christ is truly risen from the dead.
And yet the evidence of the scriptures and the evidence of history are there for all to see, yet many do not accept the evidence. Even some Catholics twist the evidence to suit their own purposes. Some people in good conscience have examined the evidence in a scholarly way and yet they just cannot accept and they cannot believe that Jesus Christ is God. They see the evidence but they do not believe. And so, there is a great gulf between seeing and believing.
When all is said and done faith remains a gift from God. And faith is not given to everyone. Certainly faith is founded on solid evidence, but we can only say “I believe” because we have allowed God to nudge us away from the customary way of thinking and we have accepted that vision of life offered by Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It’s a vision inspired by the words of Our Lord in today’s Gospel who assures us that everything is not what it seems.
Why we have been given the gift of faith and others have not we can never know; but faith is given to us not only for our own benefit but also for the benefit of everyone. Faith is not a gift like a treasure to be hoarded, but to be freely and generously shared with everyone we meet. When we leave here after Mass today the Church expects us to share our faith among the people with whom we live and share our lives.
And I am quite sure that if we all made much more use of our faith more people in the world would believe; as Our Lord tells us: “When a man has had a great deal given to him on trust, even more will be expected of him”. We have been given the great gift of faith on trust. How do we use that gift? Do we use the gift? Have we nudged anyone recently into a new way of thinking? Have we surprised anyone with the way we have used the gift of faith?