Living faith is more than a carefully regulated body of belief and doctrine; it is, above all else, a communion with God. Faith is the assurance that we, mere creatures, do not live as strangers in the presence of God. Nowhere was this more beautifully expressed than in the poetry of the Prophet Isaiah.
Following on from a period when Israel had been vanquished by the nations, when she had experienced to the full the alienation of her sinful past, the Prophet Isaiah pointed the people to a love of unparalleled intimacy. “Rejoice Jerusalem! For thus says the Lord: now towards her I send peace, flowing like a river. At her breast will her nurslings be carried and fondled on her lap. Like a son comforted by his mother will I comfort you. At the sight your heart will rejoice.”
Somewhat like children, we need not only to know God, but to know that we are held in his embrace, knowing that his love sets us free, enabling us to reach beyond our estrangement. Such love, the love described by the prophet, is the very heart of living faith. This is the faith that we, in our turn, must proclaim to a broken world. It is a faith that the world longs to hear: not the faith of strident division, but a faith rooted in love, a faith of gentle assurance and welcome.
Such, paradoxically, was the faith proclaimed by Paul in the cross of his crucified Lord. “The only thing I can boast about is the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Like ourselves, Paul had longed to live in the love of God. He had striven, through his diligent observance of the law, to win that love for himself. In lesser ways we are much the same: tempted to believe that if we try just a little harder, then God will love us. Only in his encounter with the love of his crucified Lord did Paul finally realise that God’s love comes not from ourselves, but is the gift of Christ, poured out in the love of the Cross. A child at the breast does not need to earn its mother’s love: it simply surrenders to that love. Paul expressed this same truth at the heart of faith in different words: “It does not matter if a person is circumcised or not; what matters is for him to become an altogether new creature.”
Here Paul was speaking of such a surrender to the love of God, for it is in this surrender, not in anything we do, that we become God’s new creation.
Luke’s description of the mission of the 72 disciples speaks to a Church summoned, in the new evangelisation, to proclaim Christ’s love to the world. The simplicity of Christ’s instructions bring us back to the fundamentals of any successful mission.
We must believe that the rich harvest promised by Jesus is a world longing for love and meaning. We must cling to Christ’s optimism, refusing to surrender to the discouragement that can so easily cloud our hopes.
We are tempted to prepare ourselves with a clutter of stratagems and schemes. While these have their place, the only one necessary thing is the living faith that we carry in our hearts. It was for this reason that Jesus demanded that his first missionaries took nothing with them for the journey. His presence alone would sustain them along the way. “Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals.”
This is the poverty from which faith surrenders itself to God, knowing that we live in the presence of God’s kingdom.