March 8, 2009
Second Sunday of Lent, March 08, 2009
Today, in the first reading and in the Gospel, we hear of two very different events that occur on mountains. When we think of mountains, different images may come to mind, like the Rockies out west, or maybe the Laurentians a little closer to home, and going skiing or hiking. Generally, being on a mountain provokes thoughts of being away from things, in a spot more peaceful and quiet than other places And although these readings don’t at first seem to have much more in common than their mountain setting, they are related to each other, and ultimately to our Lenten journey. In the Gospel, Mark tells us that Jesus took Peter, James, and John with Him up a high mountain. The combination of Jesus’ transfiguration, and the voice from heaven saying “This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to Him”, makes it clear to the three Apostles that Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is the Son of God, who we know will offer Himself as sacrifice for us on the Cross on Good Friday.
As this concludes, Jesus orders them not to tell anyone about what has happened. And, as hard as it must have been for them to keep quiet about it, they did obey Jesus’ command. Later, not long before He was betrayed in the garden of Gethsemane, these same three Apostles were with Jesus as He agonized over what was to come. And despite His anxiety, asking the Father if this cup could be removed, Jesus obediently prayed to His Father: “yet not what I will, but what thou will”.
We can see how the near sacrifice of Isaac in the first reading, from Genesis, prefigures the sacrifice of Jesus. This passage is very rich, but also can be subject to misunderstanding. We need to remember that Abraham and Isaac lived in a culture and time that was radically different from our own. They didn’t live in Canada just a few generations ago. And yet, these events do speak to us across all that time and all those differences.
Back in Abraham’s day, it was common for neighbouring tribes to make human sacrifices to their false gods. This was an accepted part of their culture. Of course, we know that God would not demand that anyone kill children in order to appease Him. One of the ways that we know this is because of this very story, which taught the people who eventually became the Israelites, the people who are our spiritual ancestors, that God does not require such a terrible thing. So, why did God ask this of Abraham? We are told at the beginning that God was testing Abraham. But how did Abraham know his instructions were from God? For one thing, Abraham had a long relationship with God. They were quite familiar with each other. Remember, Abraham even negotiated with God regarding the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah. And although Abraham had followed God for many years, he often ended up doing things at least partially his own way rather than God’s way.
There are many examples in Genesis of Abraham and Sarah not quite completely trusting God’s directions. But they knew that God loved them and kept His promises to them. In this test, finally, Abraham showed his absolute, complete trust in God. So, this is not a story of a cruel God. Instead, it is the story of tremendous faith, of a complete trust in God – a trust, an obedience, a faith that holds nothing back from God.
Are we holding anything back from God? Do we really have complete trust in Him? Are we willing to give over to God those things or ideas that separate us from Him? Lent is the perfect time to assess our relationship with God. We can see where we are strong, and build on those strengths. We can also see where we fall short, and work to improve in those areas. In order to make a proper assessment, we need to be honest with ourselves, and we need to have a knowledge and understanding of what we ideally should be. None of us will ever be perfect in this life. But the more we learn about our faith and what the Church teaches, the better equipped we will be to move forward in our relationship with God.
We have with us today the children who are preparing for the Sacraments, and their parents. These children are learning about the basics of the faith. The study of our faith is something that all of us – children, teenagers, young adults, parents & grandparents – should continue to do throughout our lives. If you stopped learning about the faith a long time ago, maybe this Lent is a good time to start again. If your main source for information about the Church is the mass media, take some time to go the real sources to get the truth. Whatever form it takes, our study should not be just an academic exercise, but a way of finding what God has to say to us, of listening to Him. Our study should always be combined with prayer, especially prayer for understanding. The more we learn, the more mature our understanding will be, and the more we will grow in love for Christ and His Church. With that love comes a deeper relationship with God, and a greater desire to live according to His will.
God will not test us in the same way He tested Abraham. But in today’s world, we do face challenges to our faith, and to our level of trust in God. Our society has to deal with issues such as poverty, war, abortion, stewardship of the earth’s resources, embryonic stem cell research, and euthanasia, among others; our response to these should be grounded in our faith. On a more individual and family level, we may deal with some of these issues in our lives directly, plus concerns regarding sexuality, contraception, the proper raising of our children, or caring for our ailing or dying loved ones. Our faith will help us to trust in the Lord as we struggle to do what is right, make the correct decisions, and follow His will.
I’ll close with some words by St. Leo the Great, from today’s Office of Readings: “When it comes to obeying the commandments or enduring adversity, the words uttered by the Father should always echo in our ears: This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased; listen to Him “.