Read Hebrews 11:1-19
We do not know who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, nor where the people to whom this letter is addressed actually lived. What is clear is that these people had a deep knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures and were probably members of Jewish communities who came to recognize Jesus as Son of God. We also know that they were being persecuted.
This is the context out of which is born one of the more beautiful passages of Scripture. The eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews presents a reflection on the nature of faith, giving us a definition which has withstood the test of time: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
The text goes on to illustrate this definition by presenting various individuals from the Hebrew Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament) who were known for the depth of their faith: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac, Moses and others.
As we read the letter, we realize that the people to whom it was originally written were suffering persecution because of their attachment to Jesus-Christ. The author of the letter goes to great pains to encourage them in perseverance and faithfulness. Reflecting on the example of their ancestors reminds them that they are not alone, that they are not the first to have endured hardships, that they stand in the line of men and women who held on to the truth without wavering.
Many of us count among our ancestors men and women who left their native land to emigrate to a world unknown to them. Leaving all possessions, crossing oceans for an unknown shore, starting over in a land where everything needed to be done, they certainly showed themselves to be possessed of that “assurance of things hoped for,” of that “conviction of things not seen” which Scripture calls faith.
Today, many of us enjoy holidays on cruise ships that go around in a circle, stopping here and there to satisfy our curiosity for things new and unusual. We complain quickly if the service is inadequate, if the food is not to our liking, if the weather does not cooperate. How different is this from the crossing our ancestors made, often in terrible conditions, yet with hope in their hearts. Do we live our lives as if we were on a cruise, simply for the enjoyment of it, quick to curse the difficulties of the day? Or do we understand ourselves to be on a journey, a crossing towards our ultimate home?
Our ancestors' journey towards a new land can be for us a symbol of life itself. For we all journey towards a promised land that has been gained for us through Jesus the Christ. Faith allows us to endure all manner of struggle and trial, for we know that, in the end, all things work out for the good of those who love God. May the faith that emboldened the readers of the letter to the Hebrews shine forth in our own lives still today.