Fr. Charles Irvin
2nd Sun Lent [B] 2006
Genesis 22:1-2,9,10-13,15-18; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10
I’m going to slowly give you some words and after each one give you a moment to bring to mind your associations with those words – trial – anguish – suffering – loss. Now consider – faith – hope – change. Let me suggest to you that we can take all of our associations with those words and see them in the light that today’s readings cast upon them.
Much of life is dealing with loss and the pain of loss. All of us have faced loss and will face more of loss. Many whom we know, and perhaps some of us here today, have suffered the loss of their homes, their jobs, the value of their homes, their businesses, their careers, and their hopes and dreams for their futures. We are all being tested these days in one way or another.
Two of the most profound losses that weigh the heaviest on us are the loss of someone we love and the ultimate loss, loss of life itself. When someone we dearly love chooses to walk away from us we grieve terribly. When someone we love dies, the grief we suffer can be nearly unbearable.
Will we give in to despair? Will we lose faith in ourselves? Will we lose faith in God?
Abraham’s response gives us a model for our own response to life’s trials. Abraham’s faith gives us a preview of Christ’s faith. Abraham’s faith was stupendous. Christ’s faith is the greatest ever known. The closest parallel we have to Christ’s faith is Abraham’s faith. That is the reason for what was asked of him; that is the hidden plan God had in mind when He asked Abraham to give Him his son Isaac’s life.
We do not have the time here to delve into all in Abraham’s life that brought him to this point. To sum it all up we can only give attention to the fact that to an immeasurable degree he loved his son Isaac. To sacrifice his son, and not only that but to be his father and the one who would put his son to death, carried with it a loss and a pain that we cannot imagine.
There was a depth of faith in Abraham that words cannot plumb. The crushing truth is that he was willing to do so because God asked him to. Truly, as we acknowledge in the Eucharistic Prayer, Abraham is our “father in faith,” not in the order of time but in the quality and depth of the faith he had, and to which we are called by our Father in heaven.
A staggering truth now hits us. Isaac, Abraham’s dearest and beloved son, was spared. God’s only begotten Son was not. God prevented Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac; God allowed His own Son to be sacrificed. God did not protect Himself from pain. God takes all of our own losses, pain, and suffering and makes it His own.
We will never be able to unravel the mystery of evil, along with the mystery of anguish, suffering, and loss. We can only face their realities while entering into the faith of Jesus. We have a gift God has given us, a gift not given to Abraham. Today’s gospel account allows us to see that gift, namely the gift of Christ risen into transfigured glory after having experienced the worst of trial, anguish, suffering, and loss.
While we may never unravel the mystery of evil, we have within us the power to respond to trial, anguish, suffering, and loss. Some folks chose to respond using the blame game. God, they say, is to blame. They ask why God would allow bad things to happen; asking questions that are not really questions, they are instead accusations. These things, they say, are all God’s fault. They overlook the fact that God placed Adam and Eve in the
Garden of Paradise not to suffer, but to be happy.
Suffering was not in God’s purpose when He created us. Suffering results from human choices, not God’s. It is not God’s will that a husband cheat on his wife; it is not God’s will that a wife should walk out on her husband; it is not God’s choice that corporate executives of financial institutions should indulge themselves in greed and concoct schemes to make exorbitant amounts of money; it is not God’s will that we say and do things that bring hurt, pain, and loss into other people’s lives. If we fall into the blame game we do nothing to alleviate our pain, we only assign blame… and accomplish nothing thereby.
Today’s second reading taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans is instructive. Said he:
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 will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us.
Who will condemn? It is Christ Jesus who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword?
It is God who brings good out of evil, order out of chaos, meaning out of absurdity, and life out of death. It is God who refused to allow Abraham’s son, Isaac, to be sacrificed but allowed His own Son to be sacrificed, who allowed Himself to enter into our loss, pain, and suffering and thereby transfigure it, transform it, and in doing so give us hope and eventual victory over all that evil would use to tear us away from Him and His love.
Abraham is our father in faith. God is the source of our faith. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life of our faith. What we hope for is real, not an illusory dream or wish. God’s promise is based on His performance, a performance that allows us to realize our hope. Our hope is found in the glorified Christ, God’s own Son who suffered and endured all that it means to be human, the God who gives us in Christ the power to overcome all that life hurls at us. God gives us the power to choose, to choose life at its best, to choose life that leads to peace, truth, love, beauty, and true happiness.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made famous the old Negro spiritual: “We Shall Overcome.” Because Abraham is our father in faith, and Jesus is our brother and Savior, we shall indeed overcome. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, nothing but our own choices. May we always make choices that will lead to our transfiguration in Christ.