God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, "Abraham!", "Here I am!", he replied. Then God said: "Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as holocaust on a height that I will point out to you."
When they came to the place which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the Lord's messenger called to him from heaven, "Abraham, Abraham!", "Yes, Lord", he answered. "Do not lay your hand on the boy," said the messenger. "Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son." Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.
Again the Lord's messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said: "I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the Earth shall find blessing - all this because you obeyed my command."(P) The word of the Lord.
I believed, even when I said, "I am greatly afflicted." Precious in the eyes of the Lord is the death of His faithful ones. (R)
O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your handmaid; you have loosed my bonds. To you I will offer sacrifice of thanksgiving, and I will call upon the name of the Lord. (R)
My vows to the Lord will I pay, in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem. (R)
Brothers and sisters: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but handed him over for us all, how will He not also give us everything else along with him?
Who shall bring a charge against God's chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. Who will condemn? Christ Jesus it is who died - or, rather, was raised - who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.(P) The word of the Lord.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on Earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son, listen to him." Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.
As they were coming down the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.(P) The Gospel of the Lord.
Lent is one of the most important seasons of the liturgical year, also known as the church year. It is marked by forty days of fasting, prayer and works of charity in preparation for the feast of the resurrection of Christ or Easter. It is a time to renew and strengthen our relationship with God and with one another. It is a time of "giving up" or "sacrificing" or "abstaining" from certain things such as food and drinks to stand in solidarity with the poor and to identify with the suffering of Christ.
A couple of days ago someone asked me for clarification on abstinence. She asked, "Father, I abstain from meat on all Fridays of Lent - may I know if chicken is allowed, since it is white meat?" Initially I did not understand what she was talking about. Such thoughts have never occurred to me. For me meat is meat whether white or red. It is not the type of meat we must be concerned about but the purpose of abstinence. The sacrifices in Lent are really penance for atonement of sins and the path to sanctity. Saint Augustine, in his book "City of God", mentions that "a true sacrifice, then, is every work done in order that we may draw near to God in holy fellowship." In a word, if you wish to fast or abstain from meat, please do so. If you like to eat meat, please enjoy eating. But whether we give up something or do something extra for Lent, let us do it willingly and joyfully.
As we begin the second week of Lent let us take a moment to reflect on today's first reading from the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament. I am sure most of us know the story of Abraham and how the Lord had promised him and his wife Sarah, a son and yet no son was born to them even when they had reached old age. Sarah became impatient with God's promise and sent Abraham to her maidservant Hagar to have a child and they did. Abraham was eighty six years old when Hagar gave birth to his firstborn son Ishmael. But God was faithful to His promise. After twenty-five years of waiting, when Abraham was hundred years old and Sarah was ninety Isaac was born just as God had promised. When Isaac was still a child, Abraham followed Sarah's demand and God's instruction and cast out both Hagar and Ishmael. Why did Abraham send them away?
Saint Paul, in his letter to the Galatians (4:22-29), describes Ishmael as the son born of the flesh and Isaac as the son born of the promise. It may have seemed ruthless of Abraham to send them away, but it was exactly what God wanted. Perhaps Abraham did not want to give up Ishmael because if something should happen to Isaac, there would always be Ishmael. But God wanted Abraham to trust in Him. At the same time God showed special favor to Ishmael as well by blessing him with many descendants, and today they are called the Arabs.
Coming back to the story of Abraham, it is said that after Hagar and Ishmael had left, one day God appeared to Abraham and commanded, "Abraham! Take your son, your only son, your beloved Isaac, and go to the land of Moriah, where you are to offer him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I shall point out to you." It was as if God, through His previous promises to Abraham, was preparing Abraham to receive the command and execute it immediately. Abraham's faith had already been tested when God commanded him to leave his land and family behind and go to an unknown land. And now God was asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son. God was demanding Abraham to do the unthinkable, to kill Isaac, and yet Abraham did not question God. We might ask, "What kind of God is this asking for human sacrifice?" or "What might have impelled Abraham to carry out the cruel demand of God?" As a matter of fact, in several places the Bible condemns human sacrifice. For instance, in the Book of Leviticus (18:21), the Lord spoke to Moses and said, "You will not allow any of your children to be sacrificed to Molech, thus profaning the name of your God."
Anyway, at the time of Abraham, the ancient Semitic people who occupied the land of Canaan before the Israelite's conquest known as the Canaanites used to offer their firstborn sons as sacrifices to idols to please their gods or in despair to receive forgiveness for their sins at any price. So, on the one hand, the sacrifice of his son must not have appeared as something inhuman to Abraham, as it does to us today. On the other hand, Abraham could have never believed that God would want a human sacrifice and that too the only son given to him with a promise.
We witness Abraham's strong faith in the Lord during his conversation with his son Isaac. As they were going toward a mount in Moriah, Isaac asked him, "Father, here are the fire and the wood but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?" Abraham replied, "My son, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering." Yes. God, pleased with Abraham's devotion and obedience, provided him with a substitute, a ram to offer in place of his son. So Abraham called this place, "The Lord provides", as it is said to this day, "On the mount the Lord provides", Genesis (22:14). In the course of his life Abraham had trusted in God's promises for his son. After the test, Abraham knew that he loves his son in the same way God loves.
There are many parallels between Isaac and Jesus. For instance, like Abraham who was willing to present his only son Isaac as an offering to God, God the Father sacrificed his own Son to save all sinners. Like Isaac who carried wood for the burnt offering Jesus carried the wooden cross. Christ was the ultimate sacrificial substitute once and for all. God does not require any human sacrifice anymore.
What is the message for us today? When God wants to bless us He also wants to prepare us for His blessings. This is necessary as God's blessings are so powerful and plenty. One way that God uses to prepare us for the blessings is putting our faith to the test. Last week we read of our Lord Jesus himself being put to the test by the Heavenly Father. Today we read that God put Abraham to the test. Like Jesus, Abraham and many other prophets, saints and believers, God gives each of us trials, difficult and uncomfortable situations to test our faith in Him. God does not tempt us, as Satan does to get us to commit sin or do evil. God only tests our obedience to receive His blessings. At the same time God does not test us to see what is in our heart or discover what's on our mind. He knows our thoughts and our intentions. God puts us to the test so that we can grow in faith. He tests us so that we may discern His plan for us.
In today's gospel we read that after Jesus' transfiguration and conversation with Moses and Elijah, the disciples heard from the cloud a loud voice, "This is my beloved Son, Listen to Him." In the gospel of John we read Jesus addressing those who follow him, "If you love me you will keep my commandments. Whoever holds to my commandments and keeps them is the one who loves me; and whoever loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and reveal myself to him", John (14:15, 21). I believe that God saves His best gifts for those who remain faithful during times of trial and suffering. He does not forget those who put their trust in him. When our hope in God's promises to us seems to fall to pieces, we need a lot of patience and devotion to keep on seeking His will. So then, during this Lenten season let us not just repent and believe in God's promises but also prove our faith through obedience. Let us show our love for God, our faith in Him, by giving heed to His instructions, by listening and obeying.(P) Amen.
God Bless You!