The Lord said to Abram: "Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the Earth shall find blessing in you." Abram went as the Lord directed him.(P) The word of the Lord.
Upright is the word of the Lord, and all His works are trustworthy. He loves justice and right; of the kindness of the Lord the Earth is full. (R)
See, the eyes of the Lord are upon those who fear Him, upon those who hope for His kindness, to deliver them from death and preserve them in spite of famine. (R)
Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you. (R)
Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to His own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus took Peter, James and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light. And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, covering with him. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." While he was still speaking behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Rise, and do not be afraid." And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, "Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead."(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Today's first reading from the Book of Genesis is one of the key passages from the Old Testament, for from here the story of Abram's journey to follow God and live a life of faith begins.
The Lord said to Abram, "Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you. I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you." Abram went forth as the Lord had directed him.
The word "bless" which is repeated five times in this short text, occurs hundreds of times in the Bible. The main Hebrew word for bless is "barak" which means "to kneel down in an act of adoration or to give praise". Another Hebrew word for blessing is "esher", which is also translated as happiness. "Blessings" are an integral part of the Biblical narrative, and they are expressed in many different ways.
Sometimes, God is the source of blessing and His creatures are the recipients. For instance, God created plants, living creatures, animals, man and woman, and He blessed them, Genesis (1:22, 28). At other times, the order is reversed. The creatures are the invokers of blessings and the Creator God is the recipient. For example, the writer of the Book of Daniel gives praise and glory to God together with creation by saying, "Sun and moon, bless the Lord; all the heavens, bless the Lord; fire and heat, bless the Lord; frost and cold, bless the Lord; mountains and hills, bless the Lord; seas and rivers, bless the Lord; all plants and animals bless the Lord and the human race praise the Lord", Daniel (3:57-88). Similarly, the Book of Genesis records a servant of Abraham bowing and worshipping the Lord with this prayer, "Blessed be Yahweh, God of my master Abraham", Genesis (24:26-27).
The word "barak" is also used by man to bless man. For example, Isaac called down the blessing of God upon his son Jacob, Genesis (27:19). In the same way, Aaron called a blessing upon the people, Numbers (6:23). The Psalmist tells us that those who "walk in the light of God's presence", Psalm (89:15), those who "walk in the fear of the Lord", Psalms (112:1, 128:1), and those "who seek justice", Psalm (106:3), are the "blessed" people. In the gospel of Mark, we read that Jesus embraced children, laid his hands on them and gave them his blessing, Mark (10:16). Jesus also taught His disciples to bless those who curse them, Luke (6:28a). Weaving these threads together, we see that "bless", "blessing" and "blessed" refer to the bestowal of divine favor, bestowing goodness on others, glorifying and speaking well of God and others, asking for protection from evil, bringing happiness about and so on.
What did "bless" and "blessing" mean to Abram when God spoke to him? We do not know much about Abram's life until God spoke to him. From the chapters before today's text in the Book of Genesis, we learn that Abram, born in Ur in modern Iraq, was the son of Terah, a descendant of Shem, a son of Noah. Abram and Sarai were married and living in Haran in modern Lebanon when God spoke to him. They had no children because Sarai was barren, and they were both very old. That's all we know about Abram.
We must note two important things here:
Much later, as we read on, we learn that Abram arrived in Canaan when he was about 76 years old, Genesis (16:3). When he was 99 years old, God changed his name from Abram meaning "high father", or "great father", to "Abraham" meaning "father of a multitude", and his wife's name "Sarai" meaning "my princess" to Sarah meaning "mother of nations", and promised them a son, Genesis (17:5, 17:15). Eventually Abraham had his promised son, Isaac with his wife Sarah, and later, had six more sons with Keturah whom he married after the death of Sarah, Genesis (21:1-3, 25:1).
He was said to have lived to a good old age, and the Lord had blessed him in every way, Genesis (24:1). At the time of his death, Abraham had indeed been materially blessed by God with livestock, silver and gold, Genesis (13:2). So, we see that God's blessings for Abram included God's gracious provisions for personal well-being, a long life, abundance of food, children, wealth, security, peace and God's presence. God's blessings to Abram caused him to prosper in all that he did. He was blessed both temporally and spiritually, Genesis (13:14-18, 15:6, 15:18) and John (8:56).
God had said that He would not only bless Abram, but also bless those Abram would bless, and make his name so great that he would be a blessing to all people on earth. Perhaps Abram did not understand what it all meant. But it looks like God had a much larger plan than met the eye. God's plan was to bring blessing to the whole world. God had devised His universal redemptive plan long before the call of Abram but He merely chose Abram as the starting-point. As a matter of fact, this plan had been unfolding gradually through time since the fall of Adam and Eve. After the serpent had deceived the man and the woman into eating fruit from the forbidden tree, God declared that He would put an enmity between the serpent and the woman, and between the serpent's seed and the woman's seed.
Eventually the seed of the woman will crush the serpent's head indicating Satan's ultimate defeat, Genesis (3:15). The seed was passed down to Adam's son Seth, who in turn passed it down to his own son Noah and then to Abram, then to David through the line of Judah, and then to Joseph and Mary and finally to Jesus, Genesis (49:8-12). From Jesus' public ministry we know that He healed the sick, raised the dead, cleansed lepers, cast out devils, fed the hungry, but first and foremost, He came to crush Satan. He came to break the power of sin. Today, we, Christians believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, and believe that by His crucifixion and resurrection He has delivered us from the power of Satan, the slavery to sin, and the fear of death.
Abram's call and blessing from God was a big one, big enough to be felt through all the ages. God called Abram, and Abram in faith, responded to the call quickly. Just by responding favorably to God's call, God provided him with the great blessing and made him a blessing to others. From the beginning, God's promise to "make Abram the father of a great nation and make his name great" was indeed a great blessing but it did not come easy. They entailed a lot of discomfort, hardship and sacrifice. Yet, Abram trusted in God's word and left his land. It was the beginning of a great piece of history which would go on for centuries, and which is far from being over - the history of Israel, and of the Christian people and of our own history. Hence, we can also rightly call Abraham our father in faith and the father of all believers in God's power and love.
Abraham's blessing also extended to his descendants as they walked with God. True to His promise, it is written that Isaac sowed his crops and within a year, he reaped a hundredfold. Yahweh blessed him and he became rich; he prospered and prospered until he was indeed rich. He acquired flocks and herds and a large retinue. The Philistines began to envy him, Genesis (26:12-14). However, Abraham's blessings do not come to everyone but only people of faith. Saint Paul in his letter to the Romans rightly reminds us that Abraham was promised the world for his descendants, and we who have faith in Christ Jesus are those descendants, Romans (4:13). He was blessed because of his faith in God's Word. We must also receive these blessings in faith. If we refuse to believe the blessings are for us, we will not receive them.
God still blesses us, and at the same time calls us to be a blessing to others. Let us, in all humility and gratitude, accept both God's temporal and spiritual blessings to us and in turn, let us be a blessing to others wherever we are.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!