2nd Sunday of Lent (Fr. Francis)
Abraham is portrayed as being willing to let go of what was most precious to him, the only son of his old age. In being willing to let his son go to God, he went on to receive him back as a gift. Many people find it a very disturbing story, because it portrays God as asking Abraham to sacrifice his only beloved son as a burnt offering to God. We are rightly shocked by the image of God asking a father to sacrifice his son in this way. Abraham lived about a thousand years before Christ. In the religious culture of that time it was not uncommon for people to sacrifice their children to various gods. The point of the story seems to be that the God of Israel is not like the pagan gods. If Abraham thought that God was asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac like the people who worshipped other gods, he was wrong. God was not asking this of Abraham. Yet, the willingness of Abraham to let go of what was most precious to him if that was what God was asking remained an inspiration to the people of Israel. He had already shown a willingness to let go of his family and his homeland as he set out towards an unknown land in response to God’s call.
The early church understood the relationship between Abraham and Isaac as pointing ahead to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. Like Abraham, God was prepared to let go of what was most precious to him, his divine Son, out of love for humanity. God was prepared to let his Son take on our flesh, with all the dangers that entailed. Saint Paul marvels at this generosity of God on our behalf, as he writes, ‘God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all’. God let his precious Son join in our humanity even though the consequences meant the rejection of Jesus by his own people and, ultimately, his crucifixion. Even after Jesus was crucified, God continued to give him to us as risen Lord. When Paul contemplates this self-emptying love of God for us, he asks the rhetorical question, ‘With God on our side who can be against us?’ If God’s love for us is so total, then we have nothing to fear from anything or anyone.
Peter, James and John are taken up a high mountain by Jesus, and have an experience which takes their breath away. It was an experience so precious that Peter could not let it go. He wanted to prolong it indefinitely and so he says to Jesus, ‘Rabbi . . . let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah’. He and the other two disciples had a fleeting glimpse of the heavenly beauty of Christ, and did not want to let go of it. Beauty attracts the eye and the heart; it calls out to us. Yet, Peter and the others had to let go of this precious experience; it was only ever intended to be momentary. They would receive it back in the next life as a gift. For now, their task was to listen to Jesus, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him’. That is our task too. We spend our lives listening to the Lord as he speaks to us in his word and in and through the circumstances of our lives; we listen to him as a preparation for that wonderful moment when we see him face to face in eternity and we can finally say, ‘it is wonderful to be here.’ Jesus is present here with us in the Eucharist, how often we recognized his presence and said, it’s good to be here!!
Fr. A. Francis HGN