Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.
Yes, I know Jesus said, “Consider the birds of the air…and the lilies of the field” (Matthew 6:26, 28), but I was considering monarch butterflies the other day and they spoke volumes to me about faith. It happened while I was at the Desert Botanical Garden in the monarch butterfly exhibit and saw this sign:
The same monarch butterfly does not make the two-way migration. It can take 3 to 4 generations to complete this journey.
Every year these orange winged wonders journey thousands of miles from southern Canada and the United States to a few mountainous sites in Mexico. There they rest over the winter for the long return journey in the spring. Yet no one butterfly ever makes the entire journey. There are three or four generations linking the monarchs born in Minnesota in August and those returning in spring. No butterfly makes the journey by memory because no butterfly makes the complete trip. Each one goes where it has never gone before.
As I read about the monarch’s journey I thought of today’s Scripture text and how we are like the butterflies in our faith journey. We are on a grand journey that also spans generations. We did not begin this journey and we will not complete it without those who come after us. And we too are going where we have never gone before.
I see this in today’s Scripture text taken from Hebrews 11. This is a chapter that is often called the Bible’s “Hall of Fame” as it honors those whose lives were marked by faith. We read there of Abraham who “by faith obeyed when he was called (11:8), and Moses who “by faith, when he was grown up refused to be called a son of Pharaoh’s daughter” (11:24). It also tells of those who “by faith passed through the Red Sea as if it were dry land” (11:29), and those who “shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war” (11:33-34).
But in today’s text the Spirit of God says of these men and women, “though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised”. And the reason they did not receive the promise was because “God had provided something better so that they would not, without us, be made perfect.” They would not complete the journey without us. The Knox Bible translates this last phrase “We were needed, to make the history of their lives complete.” I also like the way The Message translates this passage: “that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.”
Like no one generation of monarch butterflies completes the journey, so our generation will not complete the journey without those who have gone before and those who will come after us. Together the generations are “bound in the bundle of life under the care of the Lord” (I Samuel 25:29). Neither Abraham’s nor Moses’ faith journey is complete without our faith. Nor will our journeys be complete without the faith of those who follow us. That is one reason why the Bible gives such prominence to its genealogies. The generations are in this together!
As I stopped there in the botanical garden to consider monarch butterflies and Scripture a couple of thoughts came to me:
- God always calls us to something bigger than us. Bigger than our own agenda. Bigger than anything we can dream. Those coming after us will perfect and complete it.
- Our lives cannot be fully understood or accounted for apart from those who came before us, and those coming after us.
- Life is always better and richer when we have purpose and dreams reaching beyond us.
- And, just like the monarch butterflies, Abraham, and Moses, God leads us where we have never gone before.
To new adventures!