Theme: understand the demands of your faith
Last week, God enters a covenant with Noah and assured him of the sustenance of that covenant for many generations to come. Today, Abraham becomes a beneficiary of this covenant. Each one of us is invited to a covenantal relationship with God throughout this season of Lent; a covenantal relationship in which God is at the service of humanity and in which he writes his laws on our heart and mind (cf Jeremiah 31:33).
The most extraordinary faith of the Old Testament introduces us to the most extraordinary love of the New Testament. Abraham´s sacrifice of his son, Isaac, inspiring and admirable as it is (First Reading), is only a pale shadow of what it prefigures: God´s sacrifice of his only-begotten Son (Second Reading). On Mount Tabor, God wanted to reveal to the leaders of the apostles Jesus´ true identity, not only so that their faith could survive the scandal of the passion, but also so that they might understand the depth of his love for us (Gospel).
The liturgy is dominated today by two father – son relationships, both characterized by an inexpressibly great heroism. Each father loves his son like no one has ever loved. Abraham lives for his son Isaac; the inspired writer makes a point of underlining just how deeply he loves the young boy. It appears as an unsurpassable paternal love. Yet when God speaks of his Beloved Son, he is expressing a love that is beyond all the paternal and maternal love in the history of the universe a million times over. And each of them is prepared to offer the beloved one in sacrifice: Abraham in the obedience of faith to a God whose mystery and whose thoughts surpass him; God the Father in obedience to his own faithful love for human creatures: and being the same love, it too is infinitely greater than the deepest and purest human love ever known.
In the first reading, the book of Genesis recounts to us the condition for sustaining the covenantal relationship that God had with Abraham. God’s call to Abraham was an imperative or a command “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love and go to the land of Moriah and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you” (Genesis 22:2). One of the conditions of remaining in the covenantal relationship is to respond to God’s invitation urgently because His calling is urgent. Again, it was as if God was reminding Abraham about his past (his search for a son). Thus the covenantal relationship demands of us sacrifice of that which is so dear to us. Abraham demonstrates total trust and faith in God. He did not question God why such a demand. Faith must underline keeping our part of the covenant otherwise it makes no sense to us. Finally, the fear of the Lord underlines everything.
If sacrifice underpins our relationship with God, it brings rewards. Abraham was rewarded with the title “Friend of God” and “a father of many nations”. If by nearly sacrificing his only son, Abraham became the friend of God and a father of many nations, then someone greater than Abraham (God) and Isaac (Jesus Christ) has come. Those who will obey Jesus have greater blessings.
Jesus in the gospel reading of today is presented to us as he who seals the covenantal relationship with his blood; otherwise we cannot on our own remain faithful to the covenant. Jesus assures us that faithfulness to the covenant will lead to our own transfiguration. We will see God face to face and like Peter, we will exclaim, “It is wonderful for us to be here.” Indeed, in this season of Lent and in our daily encounter with the Lord should lead us to say that “It is wonderful for us to be there”. Our daily celebration of the Eucharist should be joyful and a wonderful encounter with our God because in it our sins are forgiven. St Peter puts it beautifully when he says “You know that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your ancestors, not with perishable things like silver and gold but with the precious blood of Christ like that of a lamb without blemish. He was destined before the foundation of the world, but was revealed at the end of the ages for your sake” (1Peter 1:18-20).
Jesus warned the disciples not to tell anybody about what they have experienced until his resurrection. Indeed, Jesus has resurrected and we are not to keep quiet. We are supposed to tell people about the mercy of God and bring them to the fold especially by sharing with them what we have experienced. Why are we quiet? In this season of Lent, we are reminded of the unceasing mercy of God. We are asked to listen to the voice of Jesus because in it lies our salvation. Indeed, he is our mercy and reconciliation.
God instructs Abraham to substitute a ram for Isaac, but Jesus himself is the Lamb who is substituted for all God´s other sons and daughters. He did it under no obligation but that of love, "he did not spare his own Son but handed him over for the sake of us all". After this, nothing else can ever really be called generous in the same sense. That he gives up the Son for whom his love is limitless means that his love is also limitless for those in whose favor the sacrifice is offered. This is what St. Paul emphasises in the second reading.
In conclusion, the obedience of faith, sacrifice and reverence for God are demanded from us all. Sometimes faith has to bow its head in uncomprehending obedience. This was certainly Abraham´s case: what could he possibly make of God´s command to sacrifice his son through whom God himself had pledged to make him the father of innumerable descendants? Yet he obeys, and this is what enables God to make visible for all time his exceedingly great love. What would have happened if Abraham had been like us, and taken the "logical" or "reasonable" path? If he had preferred to defend his "legitimate self-interests" instead of following God´s strange paths? We should all try, certainly, to understand our faith as best we can. But faith calls first of all to obedience to God´s plan and his will, whether we understand or not. If we only did what "made sense" to us, we would be our own little god.