Fr. Roger J. Landry
Our Lady of Health Parish, Fall River, MA
Second Sunday of Lent, B
March 16, 2003
Gen 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Rom 8:31-34; Mk 9:2-10
1) We encounter two of the most dramatic scenes in Sacred Scripture today, the story of Abraham and Isaac in the first reading and the Transfiguration of the Lord Jesus in the Gospel. Both are given to us on this Second Sunday of Lent, because both are supposed to influence deeply the way we live this Lent. Let’s see why.
2) We know well the story of Abraham, who to this day is called the Father of Faith by Christians, by Jews and even by Muslims. He shows us very clearly what real faith is, the type of faith God calls each of us to. When he was 75 years old — well past retirement age for people today — the Lord called to him while he was in Ur of the Chaldeans (modern-day Iraq) and told him to leave the land of his kinfolk and go to a land he would show him. God was asking him to pack up his bags completely and leave everything behind, his language, his land, everything. And he was 75. But he did it. And God gave him a promise, one that would have sounded crazy to Abraham and his wife, Sara, who were childless at the time. “I will make of you a great nation.” Eventually God changed Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “Father of many nations.” How could Abraham become a great nation if he and his wife had been unable to have children for the very likely fifty-plus years of marriage? Yet Abram believed again. They took all of their possessions and left going to whatever place the Lord would show them. The Lord led them to Canaan, where he said, “to your descendents I will give this land.” But little did Abram know that he was going to have to fight for the land, against several kings. After they were settled, Abram and Sara tried for 10 years to have a child but were unsuccessful. But he continued to believe, even though it wouldn’t make much sense. And when Abraham was 86 and Sarah was 91, Sarah gave birth to Isaac, who was destined, Abraham thought, to be the one through whom God would make Abraham the father of many nations. Fast-forward 13 years, to the scene in today’s first reading. Abraham is 99. God decided to test Abraham’s faith to the utmost. God asked Abraham to go to Mt. Moriah, which is a hill in Jerusalem, and there sacrifice his son, the son for whom he had waited for 86 years, his hope, pride and joy. Abraham did what the Lord wanted, even though it would have seemed so contradictory. He did hoping that God himself would provide the lamb for the Holocaust. Isaac the Son carried the wood. Abraham built the altar and then was prepared to sacrifice his own son to the Lord — something that the canannite pagans were accustomed to do — before the angel of the Lord held his hand and told Abraham not to harm the boy in the least. But Abraham was willing to sacrifice everything, even the one he loved most, because of his faith in God, because he loved God even more than he loved his son.
3) There are two reasons why the Church gives us this story at the beginning of Lent. The first is because we’re called to have the same faith as Abraham, our father in faith. We need to imitate his complete trust in God, no matter what we’re asked to do. Whether we’re young, or whether we’re 99 years old, we’re still called to follow the Lord, to trust in him, and to make him truly #1 in our lives. We’re called to imitate Abraham’s choices. If we prefer to have a quiet retirement, but God wants to uproot us and lead us to a place we’d rather not go, we choose to go. If science and common sense tell us that something is impossible — like the conception of Isaac to two seniors citizens — but God says it will happen, we believe God. If God tells us to sacrifice, or to put in second place, something we hold absolutely dear so that we might keep the Lord in first place, we’re called to do it. God needs to come first. If it’s a choice between our husband or wife and God, we choose God. If it’s a choice between our kids and God, we choose God. If it’s a choice between God or making money, we choose the Lord. If it’s a choice between our will and his will, His will be done. There should be nothing we wouldn’t sacrifice if the Lord were asking us; if we’re unwilling to sacrifice something, well, then that something is our god, and God isn’t God. I remember my first year in seminary when I realized just how attached I was to my computer and what it stored. Everything I had done since the age of 14 was on it. After reading this story, I asked myself if God were to ask me to give up my computer, would I do it? Would I toss it out the window if God were asking? Would I toss out all my past, all the work, all of it, if God demanded it? Ultimately, God helped me to say yes to that. That’s the type of faith you need in all your priests. That’s the type of faith Jesus demands of every disciple. He said that we are unable to be his disciple unless we’re capable of denying ourselves, picking up our Cross every day and following him. We need to deny ourselves and affirm him.
4) Some people may say, “Well, God would never ask us to give up things like that. He would never ask us to toss our computers out the window. He would never ask us to give up our children or our spouses or our jobs or our homes.” Some people might say, “Who is this crazy priest from Espírito Santo saying these things?” Well, in fact the Lord may and does call us to be willing to leave everything behind to follow him. You remember the scene of the Rich Young Man in the Gospel, who came to Jesus to ask him what he needed to do to get into heaven.” Jesus responded that first he had to keep the commandments. The young man responded that he had kept them from his earliest years. Jesus then said, “If you wish to be perfect, then go, sell all that you have and give the proceeds to the poor; then, come and follow me.” Go, sell it all, give it away, and then come follow me. Someone might respond, “Well Jesus didn’t say that to everyone.” Wrong again. Jesus said, once, to everyone in the Sermon on the Mount: “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” And he said the way to become perfect, is to sell what we have, give it to the poor, and then come follow him. So we would have to be willing to do so if the Lord were asking us, and while we still have goods, to use them to build up his kingdom, rather than our kingdom. Later in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus described the faith his disciples must have even more clearly. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” If anything is keeping us from the Lord, the Lord calls us to be willing to sacrifice it right away, to put him first, to trust in him, that if we do so, the Lord will take care of everything and bless us.
5) So Lent is the time to examine ourselves about where our choices are and whether we’re choosing God in our choices. Whether we’re making the concrete choice to spend time with him in prayer each day. What could be more important than praying? If the Lord is telling us we need to go to confession this Lent, and we’re saying, “I don’t want to go,” then we need to look at the faith of Abraham and then go. Real faith is trusting in God, and putting him first in everything, which means making whatever might now occupy first place, at least second or lower. God must be first in where we place our treasure, where our heart is, how we spend our time, how we spend our talents and gifts, how we spend our money. Anything less is not worthy of God or of a faithful disciple.
6) But in all of this, God is not asking us to do anything that He himself hasn’t already done. God never says simply, “do what I say” like a tyrant might; he says rather, “follow me!” And when we look at what God did, he went far beyond even the faith of Abraham. The story of Abraham and Isaac is a true one, something that really took place, about 3800 years ago in the Holy Land. But it at the same time prophesied something that would occur 18 centuries later, when a Father led his own out to be sacrificed. He had own Son carry the wood for the sacrifice, just as Abraham had Isaac carry the wood. Abraham’s words were fulfilled when he said, “God himself would provide the Lamb.” That Lamb turned out to be the Lamb of God, the only-begotten, beloved Son of the Heavenly Father, Jesus, who carried the wood of the Cross on His Shoulders to be sacrificed on the altar of the Calvary, which is Mount Moriah. The Father said from heaven in the scene of the Transfiguration we have in today’s Gospel, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” Right before this scene, Jesus had asked his disciples who the people said he was. They responded, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah or one of the Prophets.” He then asked them, “Who do you say that I am?” After everyone fell silent, Peter said that he was the Messiah.” But that wasn’t the full truth about Jesus. God the Father answered the question from heaven. Jesus wasn’t just the Messiah, or just a holy teacher, but, instead, “This is my beloved Son! He was the eternal Son of the eternal Father and God loved Him from all eternity. God the Father loved the Son completely, but incredibly, in a certain sense, God the Father loved someone even more. He loved YOU more. He allowed his own Son to be sacrificed on the Cross, so that YOU would not have to die eternally. This is the most stupendous truth of faith ever imaginable. God loved you that much that he sacrificed his own Son for YOU, so that you might have the Father-child relationship God wants to have with you for all eternity.
7) But that’s not all. In his beautiful letter to the Romans, which is our second reading, St. Paul says, “If God did not even spare his own Son but handed him over to us all, will he not give us, with Him, everything else besides?” If God loved us THAT much, there isn’t anything he won’t give us to come to our full stature as his sons and daughters. That’s the most important thing for us to realize this Lent. The point of it is not just to give up good things, to do penance, etc., but in doing penance, in going to confession, in turning away from sin and believing in the Gospel, we might come to realize the full meaning of God’s love for us and then start to live in that love. The Father, who only spoke three times in the Gospel, said, “Listen to Him!,” listen to Jesus, and Jesus says to us this Lent what he says to us every Lent, the words of his first homily, which we heard on Ash Wednesday: Repent and believe in the Good News. Repent from everything keep you from God, trusting in God like Abraham did, and then believing in the greatest news ever, this news of God’s love, triumphing over it all. We finish with St. Paul’s faith, a faith like Abraham’s, a faith that YOU are called to develop over the course of this season of Lent beginning today: “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let us believe in that love! Let us live that love!