"God put Abraham to the test"
Gen 22: 1-2, 9A, 10-13, 15-18
Rm 8: 31B - 34
Mk 9: 2-10
O God, who have commanded us
to listen to your beloved Son,
be pleased we pray,
to nourish us inwardly by your word,
that, with spiritual sight made pure,
we may rejoice to behold your glory.
(Collect of Mass)
Just about ten days ago we began the season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. It was recommended that we do three things for this season. So, let’s see how well you do on this “pop quiz. “Do you remember what they were?….P, F, and A were the first letters of that request: Pray, Fast and give Alms.
How have you done so far in your testing this Lent? How well have you prayed, fasted and been charitable to others? We all may feel it takes a little time to shift gears and get ourselves reoriented to do what we really should be doing as a regular practice in our Christian lives but this season of grace calls us to focus more immediately on the fundamental call to holiness and conversion. We should be looking more seriously at our spiritual life, we should be willing to make more sacrifices and we can always be more generous with others and rely more on the providence of God to care for us. In the end, part of who we are and in particular this season is one of testing. Not to see if we pass or fail but rather to make us more open to receive what God asks of us.
This second Sunday of Lent brings to our minds a risky test that God offered to Abraham. Neither God nor Abraham knew how this would turn out. God who granted the pleas of the elderly Abraham and Sarah to have a child, who was named Isaac, now pushes that answered prayer even farther. In fact, God risks the relationship he has built with Abraham and while he sees him as a faithful follower, he now desires to offer him an extreme test. God calls to Abraham by name and he immediately responds, “Here I am!” Abraham eagerly desires to answer God’s call.
But then the tables are dramatically turned and God requests Abraham to do what no parent would ever imagine: “Take you son, Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and . . . offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.” God was in essence asking Abraham to return to him what he had given, a son, and to offer that son as a sacrifice; to offer his life as a holocaust. I find it interesting that our Jewish brethren refer to the horrifying experience of the Nazi death camps as “The Holocaust.”
“Abraham, do you love Isaac more than me? How faithful can you be; how far will your obedience go; how much are you willing to sacrifice for me?” All of this is implied from God in this dramatic story.
What did Abraham do? He says nothing in the story but obeys God’s request without question. Of course it was all a test as we hear in the first line of today’s reading. But, a risky one for God might have lost Abraham all together over this – but he did not.
Now we naturally pull back from such an outrageous expectation on the part of God. It flies in the face of God’s mercy and love. In art we often see Abraham depicted as an old man and his Isaac shown to be nothing more than maybe ten years old.
But, in Jewish tradition Isaac is explained as around 25 – 30 yrs old. So, it makes the request of God even more challenging. How might Abraham sacrifice his adult son? Yet, in the Jewish view we see Isaac himself as cooperating with God’s request. He is willing to be offered as a sacrifice so that his will and that of his father would be one. Isaac as well desires to obey the Lord’s command fully, as extreme as it might be. To offer his life out of obedience to anything that God would ask. In this moving story, both Abraham and Isaac are presented so devoted to God, so obedient and faithful that they would give up everything at God’s command.
Does that bring to mind another Father who offered his own Son in sacrifice where both the Father and the Son were of the same mind? Abraham and Isaac foreshadow the even greater sacrifice of Jesus on the cross who went willingly to that sacrifice and carried out his own Father’s will for the salvation of humanity. Our second reading from Romans reminds us: "He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all." It is a classic and vivid biblical story of faith and trust and an example to us in this season of personal renewal and conversion that may test our faith, or lack thereof, as well.
Our Gospel story of the transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of three chosen disciples is likewise a test of their faithfulness. Here Jesus appears in divine glory with Moses and Elijah and prepares them for the scandal of the cross. How faithful would they be even after seeing the full truth of who he is? We know their loyalty and that of the other nine was indeed fragile at that time. But God did not abandon them or the Church he had founded despite our frail attempts. He offers mercy to us.
So, prayer, fasting and offering acts of charity towards others. Aren’t all these fundamental penitential practices tests of our faith? As God said to Abraham he says to us: “How much do you love me? How much are you willing to give to me for all that I have done for you?” Lent may be a time to examine our own comforts and our resistance to going beyond the expected. It might be a time to adopt a more sacrificial lifestyle out of love for God. All of this can take a variety of forms. Although the story of Abraham and Isaac is extreme, we can learn the fundamental lesson of our call to fidelity and sacrifice in our Christian lives.
Our gathering at the Eucharist is the fruit of Jesus’ obedience to his Father’s will. He gave his life for us and now offers his body and blood as our food in this journey of life and tests our loyalty to him. How are you doing?