What does real faith look like? That is a central question from the scriptures this weekend. And this is a question we all need to ask from time to time. Am I practicing a real faith? Or am I just going through the motions?
Let’s take a look at how the scriptures answer this question. In the gospel Jesus offers us the negative example first. He says– “beware of the scribes…” And exactly what should we beware of? Two things.
1. Beware of the scribes because their prayers are fake. They may look good by putting on long robes and taking the best seats in the synagogues. They may put on a good show by reciting lengthy prayers. But their hearts are not sincere. And that principle is just as true then as it is now. If it is just for show – if it is fake, then look out!
Beware brothers and sisters. Don’t be like the scribes. Don’t be a religious fake.
2. Beware of the scribes because they take advantage of people. Jesus cites a very specific example – they devour the houses of widows… Widows in ancient times served as an example of a person in society who is weak and vulnerable. And people of faith are supposed to protect the weak and the vulnerable. But instead of doing that, these fakes would take advantage of the poor, using up their resources, even their houses, and leaving them with nothing. The fake religious abused the poor and vulnerable back then. And the fake religious do the same today.
Beware brothers and sisters. Don’t be like the scribes. Don’t take advantage of the poor.
No matter how religious a person may appear to be, if their prayer is insincere and their actions are selfish, then their faith is dead. And Jesus gives the most chilling warning – they will receive a very severe condemnation.”
This is just as true today as it was when Jesus said it first to his disciples. So listen closely people of God. Jesus is telling us -- beware of these things.
So what are we supposed to do? What does that real faith look like? This weekend scripture offers us the example of a prophet and two widows.
1. Elijah the prophet. Elijah is an example of a man whose faith was sincere. Elijah was devoted. He was faithful to the sacred scriptures, sacred tradition, and to the authentic teaching the faith. So much so that in his role as prophet he was constantly calling Israel to repent and to practice the real faith. This was difficult for him because most of society, especially the leadership of the day, had turned away from the real faith. Even when Elijah faced the worst opposition from king Ahab and queen Jezebel and all the priests and prophets of the false religions, Elijah didn’t waver. He stayed true. His heart stayed close to God. His mind stayed true to sacred scripture and sacred tradition. And his soul stayed faithful.
Let us pray that God will give us the grace to be more like Elijah the prophet - with sincere faith.
2. The two widows. These faithful widows are the example of courageous trust. Both of these women were in dire straits. The first – the widow of Zarepath – wasn’t even of the Jewish faith. But she received Elijah the prophet with hospitality, offering him a cup of water. And when he asked for a bit of bread, she shared with him the very last that she had, while invoking the God of Israel. Elijah told her – do not be afraid. Because of her courageous trust God rewarded her by providing for her throughout that terrible year of drought. Her jar of flour never went empty nor did her jar of oil run dry.
The second, the widow at the temple, is our other example of courageous trust. Jesus observed her along with the others putting their tithes into the temple treasury. And he noted that she gave from her poverty. Which means that she gave with trust that God would provide for her just as God did for the widow of Zarepath.
Let us pray that God will give us the grace to be more like the two widows - with courageous trust.
Both the prophet Elijah and the two widows point the way to Jesus himself. Because Jesus offers us the example of a heart truly united with God the Father. Jesus offers us the example of courageous trust. He gives everything for love of God and for all of us, even to the point of the cross. He is our great high priest, revealing the resurrection and eternal life to us.
This is why we have a true and sincere faith in Jesus.
This is why we have the courage to trust in him.
This is why we have the confidence to do whatever he asks of us.
So back to the first question – what does real faith look like? Let’s continue to follow Jesus who shows us the way.