Homily for the 2nd Sunday of Lent
Last week I suggested that rather than thinking of Lent as a time to do something for God, the readings were trying to get us to remember all that God had done for us. Today we continue that meditation and we deepen it as we focus our gaze not on the gifts we have received but upon the one giving them. It is God who is in our midst, God who did not spare the beloved Son.
The story from the Book of Genesis is as close to a horror story as we can find in the Bible. The notion of actually sacrificing one’s child is so foreign to our way of thinking that we cannot understand why God might ask such a thing of Abraham even as a test of his faith. We must remember that the first reading of the Sundays of Lent all point to the Paschal mystery. Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son just as God sacrifices the Son as our Redeemer. However, there is an even deeper meaning lying underneath the details of this story.
Just as Abraham had a dream of having a son to inherit his wealth, we all have dreams of the future, dreams of improvement and fulfillment, about success and well-being. Our dreams are not necessarily selfish. We all want peace and a better world for our children and grandchildren. We would all like to be better men and women, stronger, more virtuous, less self-centered. Such aspirations and dreams are profoundly spiritual. At the same time, we have to admit that no one ever realizes all of their dreams and aspirations. Our human resources are limited. Life throws up roadblocks that impede our progress and prevent us from following our dreams. Illness or disability, tragedies and natural disasters alter the circumstances of our lives. In all of this we are forced to relinquish our cherished dreams for the future.
The story of Abraham is just that kind of story as God asks him to relinquish his dream of having a son. Through God’s intervention, it seemed as if his dream had been fulfilled. Abraham and Sarah, long past the age of child bearing, had conceived and given birth to a son. Abraham’s dream for the future was fulfilled in that miraculous birth.
Then God asked him to relinquish that dream and to give back his son as a sacrificial offering. Abraham placed his faith in God and prepared to obey. Perhaps the most amazing part of this story is Isaac’s behavior. We know that Abraham was 100 years old at the time God asked this sacrifice of him. Isaac was a young teenager, doubtlessly stronger than his father, able to outrun him or even overpower him. Yet he allows himself to be bound and placed on the altar of sacrifice. Abraham’s obedience to God’s request is mirrored and reflected in Isaac’s obedience of his father’s demands. Just as Abraham reveals God’s gift to us, Isaac reveals Jesus’ obedience of his father’s will. Abraham, Isaac and Jesus relinquish their dreams of the future in favor of God’s future for them.
Are we able to relinquish our hold on what we believe will be our future in order to receive a future that is not ours to control, a future beyond our imagination? It is God’s plan that we all be caught up in the glory of the transfigured Christ. Can we, like Abraham, relinquish our own dreams in favor of God’s dream for us? And even if our answer is yes, who of us has not wondered, with Peter, James and John, what rising from the dead might really mean?
This is exactly what we are all asked to do. As baptized members of the Body of Christ, we are asked to set aside our dreams of the future and to embrace the future that God has in store for us, a future with Christ as the basis and model. This means that if we wish to gain the glorified state of existence that the apostles witness in the Transfiguration, we must die with Christ in order to rise with him. We must let our dreams of the future go and listen to the voice of Jesus instead.
Where do we place our trust? Is it in our own dreams and plans for the future, or have we placed it in the hands of Christ who, as St. Paul tells us today, died for us and who intercedes for us in heaven? Do we need a glimpse of Christ’s transfiguration in order to believe in his resurrection? Do we have to see and touch Jesus, or are we able to believe because we have heard the message he proclaimed? God’s future in Christ is open to us, but we must accept it in faith even when we don’t fully understand what it means. The voice from heaven asks us to “Listen to him.” Listen to the one who has died for us, who has been taken up into heaven, who sits at the right hand of God, and who intercedes for us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator