The Lenten Imitation of Abraham’s Faith, Fifth Thursday of Lent, March 26, 2015

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, New York, NY
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
March 26, 2015
Gen 17:3-9, Ps 105, Jn 8:51-59


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Yesterday we celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the day on which the Word became flesh and dwelled among us in the womb of the Blessed Virgin as a result of her faith, the faith that led her to conceive the Word of God in her heart before she did in her womb, the act of conception that occurred, as the great Medieval painters depicted, through Mary’s ear. We pass from yesterday’s focus on the faith of our spiritual Mother to concentrating on Abraham, our father in faith. Like Mary, Abraham believed in what the Lord was saying. At the beginning of today’s Gospel, Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” Jesus has the words of eternal life and we’re called to live on every word that comes from his mouth. This is the fundamental Lenten journey. On the first day of Lent, we received a Cross in ashes on our forehead in the same place we were marked with the sign of the Cross on the day of our baptism and were instructed by Christ’s minister with the same words with which Jesus began his public ministry: “Repent and be faithful to the Gospel.” Lent is about helping us to turn away from infidelity and live out with faith our baptism seeking to align our whole life to God’s word so that we can be led passed the threshold of death into eternal life. Lent is an opportunity, an acceptable time, for us to remember how to live true to the new and eternal Covenant Jesus made with the Father on our behalf and with us on the Father’s behalf.
  • With that background, we can much more easily see the moral applications of Jesus’ conversations with the Jews in today’s Gospel which center on the figure of Abraham. In the passage of St. John’s Gospel we would have heard yesterday if we didn’t have the celebration of the Annunciation, Jesus spoke about his disputants slavery to sin. They replied, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.” Jesus retorted, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works of Abraham. But now you are trying to kill me, a man who told you the truth I heard from God. Abraham did not do this.” The principal work of Abraham is faith. He believed God even when God called him, at the age of 75, to leave his homeland behind and to get moving toward a land God would only reveal to him later. He believed when God told him, who was childless and old just like his wife, that he would not only become a dad but a father of a multitude of nations. He believed even when God seemed to ask him to sacrifice his long-awaited son Isaac, the son of the promise, confident that if God were asking it, he would raise Isaac from the dead, since he was the son of the promise. Instead of seeking God with faith like Abraham, a faith that would accept changes, that would be docile to God’s surprises, the Jews in the Gospel were not willing to believe in a God who would send prophets calling them to conversion, who would be working through all the miracles Jesus himself was doing. They thought that if Jesus were veering from their preconceived notions, then all his indisputable works couldn’t be coming from God but had to be coming from Beelzebul, the prince of demons. That’s what explains the beginning of today’s Gospel passage. When Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death,” the responded, “Now we are sure that you are possessed.” They were 99 percent convinced prior, but now they had no doubt. They listed various holy persons who kept the word of God and nevertheless died, Abraham and the prophets, and said that by this statement Jesus was making himself out to be greater than them, and his words more salvific than theirs. “Who do you make yourself out to be?,” they asked. The fact that he would be greater than Abraham and the prophets, that he would be the Son of God, they’d never accept.
  • Every Lent we’re called to accept God on his own terms by imitating the acts of faith we see in Abraham. Jesus calls us to leave our own Ur of the Chaldees, our own comfort zones, to travel to where he wants to lead us. He wants us to believe in all of his promises, even though they might seem impossible to believe, like Abraham’s not only becoming a dad but a father of many nations when he was childless past retirement age. Jesus has promised us through St. Peter that if we’ve left everything behind to follow him, we’ll have 100 fold more in this life and eternal life in the next — we’ll be spiritually 100 times more fruitful than Abraham, something we’ll recognize only in eternity. He wants us to have the faith to be willing to sacrifice what we hold dearest, knowing that he’ll be able to give life even to those sacrifices. He calls us to hold to his word so that we might never taste death. That’s why we live spiritual poverty because he raises that poverty to the spiritual riches of his kingdom. That’s why we live obedience, because he raises that obedience to the greatest freedom. That’s why we live chastity, because by that sacrifice he fills us with the greatest love.
  • When Jesus said, “Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad,” he was pointing to various aspects of this transformation. He meant Abraham saw the resurrection in Jesus with the birth of his son Isaac from two people whose reproductive systems were basically dead. He meant that Abraham would see him in the multitude of nations of which Abraham would be a father. He wouldn’t just be the father of one nation, the Jews, but the father of all nations of the earth through his offspring, Jesus, who would establish God’s covenant with the entire human race. It meant that Abraham glimpsed him in the sacrifice of Isaac, when God the Father did in fact provide the Lamb, but also in foreseeing that God would raise his son from the dead.
  • It’s important for all of us in faith to learn from Abraham how to trust in God, how to let him lead us, how to let God never cease to surprise us and move us beyond our finite categories. The Lord made a Covenant with Abraham and remembers his covenant for ever, as we prayed several times in the Responsorial Psalm. His fidelity is the ground of our own. And the covenant he made with us in his Son is even greater than the Covenant he made with Abraham and his descendants forever. And so it calls for an ever greater fidelity with God through grace. If God said to Abraham, “On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages,” so he says to us, “You and your spiritual family must keep my covenant forever!”
  • The way we renew that Covenant and are strengthened by God to keep it is in the Mass, in which we enter into a communion of body and soul with the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus. He gives us his body and blood as the “new and eternal Covenant” and instructs us to “do this” in his memory, not only celebrating this Covenant but living the Covenant in communion with him, faithfully adhering to his promises and to the commandments of love that constitute our own end of that sacred alliance. Abraham “rejoiced to see my day,” Jesus said. How joyful we ought to be not just to see it but to live it together with Jesus!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
GN 17:3-9

When Abram prostrated himself, God spoke to him:
“My covenant with you is this:
you are to become the father of a host of nations.
No longer shall you be called Abram;
your name shall be Abraham,
for I am making you the father of a host of nations.
I will render you exceedingly fertile;
I will make nations of you;
kings shall stem from you.
I will maintain my covenant with you
and your descendants after you
throughout the ages as an everlasting pact,
to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
I will give to you
and to your descendants after you
the land in which you are now staying,
the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession;
and I will be their God.”God also said to Abraham:
“On your part, you and your descendants after you
must keep my covenant throughout the ages.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 105:4-5, 6-7, 8-9

R. (8a) The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
Look to the LORD in his strength;
seek to serve him constantly.
Recall the wondrous deeds that he has wrought,
his portents, and the judgments he has uttered.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
You descendants of Abraham, his servants,
sons of Jacob, his chosen ones!
He, the LORD, is our God;
throughout the earth his judgments prevail.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
He remembers forever his covenant
which he made binding for a thousand generations –
Which he entered into with Abraham
and by his oath to Isaac.
R. The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.

JN 8:51-59

Jesus said to the Jews:
“Amen, amen, I say to you,
whoever keeps my word will never see death.”
So the Jews said to him,
“Now we are sure that you are possessed.
Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say,
‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’
Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died?
Or the prophets, who died?
Who do you make yourself out to be?”
Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing;
but it is my Father who glorifies me,
of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’
You do not know him, but I know him.
And if I should say that I do not know him,
I would be like you a liar.
But I do know him and I keep his word.
Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day;
he saw it and was glad.”
So the Jews said to him,
“You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you,
before Abraham came to be, I AM.”
So they picked up stones to throw at him;
but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.