Hebrews 11.32-40; Psalm 30; Mark 5.1-20
Chapter 11 of the Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the most exhilarating chapters in the whole Bible. The author recites the stories of Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses, but then exclaims (verse 32) that there isn’t time to continue the narration, which in each new generation has produced men and women of earth-shaking faith.
The author’s point might remain opaque, however, if we overlook the semi-colon in the middle of verse 35. A crescendo of panegyric climaxes with those who “came back to their wives from the dead, by resurrection.” After the semi-colon, though, the author wears a contrasting mien: “others submitted to torture.” Having catalogued the breath-taking triumphs of heroes of the faith, he turns to think of those whose lives for all that we can see didn’t turn out so well. “They were stoned, or sawn in half, or beheaded; they were homeless … they were penniless and were given nothing but ill-treatment.”
We are meant to see that the triumphs and the tragedies are the same thing. It is God himself who triumphs, God himself who suffers. As St Paul puts it in another place, “whether we live or die we are the Lord’s.” [Romans 14.8] “We don’t need another hero” Tina Turner sang at the close of the 1985 sci-fi film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. But we do need saints. We need men and women whose faith can inspire us and can raise our own flickering faith to a flame.