Understanding the Hebrew scripture or as is better known, the Old Testament can be rather problematic. Today we encounter such difficulty. How are we, the people of 2021, to appreciate the fact that God asked Abraham, our father in faith; to sacrifice his only son Isaac as a burnt offering? Did this event really take place? Does our God actually propose and condone human sacrifice? Of course not! While such sacrifices were common among the ancient pagan world people of the oriental, Middle and Far East, that must never be compared to the God Abraham, the Isaac, the God of Jacob and indeed to our God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. In classifying the text of today’s first reading, scripture scholars call it: The test of Abraham. In fact, the author of the text itself begins it by stating: “…God put Abraham to the test” (Genesis 22:1). It is in Abraham’s test we must see how God may be putting us to the ‘test’ especially in these days of Lent. In those tests, we must focus of the person of Jesus, who we know, all the Old Testament scriptures were alluding to as we appreciate in the New Testament.
I think the heart of this text is at the point where through the angel, God says to Abraham: ‘Do not raise your hand against the boy…do not harm him, for now I know you fear God.’ One of the fundamental truths about God is the belief that He is omnipresent (ever present), omniscient (all-knowing/knows everything) and He is omnipotent (all-powerful). Now, if God is all-knowing or rather knows everything and everyone in existence, why will He say: Now I know? He certainly knew that His servant Abraham will not deny Him his son Isaac. The question must be asked, did Abraham know God? Yes, Abraham knew God can and must be trusted and that is why he put his trust in Him; carrying out each of the commands that the angel put to him. What Abraham did not know was the fact that God was going to provide a ram to be sacrificed in place of his son Isaac. Here, God’s loving and divine providence surpasses what Abraham and of course any of us could ever imagine. In reading this text, we must ask ourselves as individuals and as a community: Do we know God? Sometimes we can play the ‘Christian card’ just because it is convenient to do so but never really know what that means in real sense. In today’s gospel, Saint Mark states that the apostle Peter did not know what to say seeing the divine presence of Jesus. The same must be said of Abraham and us when we experience the divine manifestation of God.
Abraham’s deep faith in God afforded him an advantage that his contemporaries did not have. The fact that he was ready to offer his son Isaac as a burnt offering suggests that unlike the people of his time, he believed that His God could bring the dead back to life. It is this theme the New Testament picks up when talking about Jesus and of course our unwavering belief and hope in the resurrection. In fact, one could metaphorically say that Isaac went through a kind of ‘death’ and ‘resurrection’ which are perfected only in the paschal experience of Jesus; that is, His life, suffering, death on the cross and glorious resurrection. The image of Isaac being bound and laid on a wooden altar must resonate with Christian understanding of Jesus being nailed on the cross. Our lives must be made open by the grace of God, to entering these paschal experiences. That is to say, we live our lives like Jesus – we unite our sufferings to those of Jesus, we die to hatred, envy, anger, unforgiving hearts, pride, indifference and desire for revenge and seek only to rise with our Lord to pure love, hope, joy, peace and deeper faith and trust in Him who is all-powerful, all-knowing and ever present in each of our life situations.
On this second Sunday of Lent, the liturgy reminds us why we observe these ‘gloomy’ days of our Lord’s passion. It is so we can come to the glorious Easter days when He conquers sin and death. With that, we must assent to apostle Peter’s words: “Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here…’ I pray and hope you feel as Peter feels when you come to Church for Mass and or your own personal prayer. We come to be renewed, healed, strengthened and transformed into Him we listen to and by whom we are nourished; Jesus Christ. But literally too, we must thank God that we are here – in this city, in this country where we feel very much shielded from the chaos of war, adverse effects of this COVID 19 pandemic, persecution and poverty.
Having experienced our Lord’s divine transformation, the disciples must accompany Him down the mountain where they will rejoin the rest of the community and continue with the mission of proclaiming the kingdom God. For Jesus, it will culminate in Him being arrested, dying on the cross and eventually rising gloriously on the third day. This is contrary to what Peter wanted; to build three tents on the mountain – one for Jesus, one Elijah and another for Moses. This would have prevented Jesus from embracing the cross which enables Him to accomplish His Father’s Will; that is, conquering sin and death. For the times we have preferred our comfort zones over our crosses, let us seek the grace this Lent to embrace them and so claim a share in our Lord’s victory.
Fr Cyprian Shikokoti, Parish Priest