God put Abraham to the test. …
Our Liturgy of the Word begins innocently enough, doesn’t it? After all, God does this a lot – we often think of ourselves as going through some test that God is administering. Last weekend, Jesus was “tested” in the desert. We are in the midst of Lent – a season where we “test” ourselves with sacrifices.
However, this is no ordinary test. It is the test. Maybe even “Test,” with a capital “T.”
“Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”
No one can read or hear this passage without having some sort of reaction or problem with it. How can we – unless, of course, we have no feelings at all? What is God asking? Human sacrifice? Yes. Why?
We believe that God knows what He is doing – at least, most of the time we do. Reading this story, we have to think that God already knew what was going to happen, and that He never meant for Abraham to kill his son. However, Abraham did not know this. In fact, we do not know this. We’ve heard the story before – perhaps, many times – so we know that it works out well for everyone involved (except that poor ram).
This is what makes this a true story of sacrifice. Abraham didn’t know. We don’t really know, either, what our lives are destined to be. We wish we knew; we might have a pretty good idea; we may have very clear plans. But, in the end, we do not know what will be. Only God knows, and HE has not told us.
Our readings this weekend, however, are not about knowing. They are about faith – and more specifically, they are about the response that faith inspires. When we believe in God, what does that mean for us? Is it simply a bot of knowledge that we have? God exists, the sky is blue, my car needs unleaded gas, McDonald’s now has Old Bay Filet-o-Fish? What does faith in God do to us? What does it do in us? What does it do for us?
The lesson of Abraham is that faith – real faith, rooted in a real relationship with God – is an “all-in” thing. It demands commitment, and it demands total commitment. All of Abraham’s life was wrapped up in Isaac. God knows this too. “Take your son, Isaac, your only one, whom you love …” He's really laying it on thick here, isn't He? God knows what He is asking of Abraham; and He knows that it is not an easy thing.
No one expects the total gift of ourselves to be easy; that’s important to note. I don’t think it’s easy, and neither does God. Jesus, who calls us to the full relationship with Him, also realizes that giving ourselves completely to Him is tough. Today, in our gospel, we see that He is willing to share with those closest to Him a vision of the payoff of this all-in relationship. In the Transfiguration, we see the glory that awaits beyond the sacrifice of the Cross.
God gave us Jesus – His only Son, whom He loves – to be the sacrifice that brings about our relationship with Him. He loves us that much. God does not spare His only Son so that all those who entrust themselves completely to Him can have eternal life, and the glory of that permanent relationship.
Is our faith this strong? Can we offer such a gift of ourselves? Can we be all-in when God asks for our commitment to Him? Or, are we simply going through the motions? Nothing worthwhile ever comes without sacrifice. Jesus shows us the way, as we walk this Lenten journey with Him. The saints have followed this way and been rewarded with the glory of heaven. There are even those today whose faith has made them ready to make the ultimate sacrifice and die for their faith rather than go back on the God of their joy.
Here we sit, comfortable and calm. However, we need to know that if we take our faith seriously we will not be comfortable for long. A faith that cannot be tested is not a faith worth keeping. God put Abraham to the test, and he rose to the moment. God asks us to give ourselves to Him as signs of the power of His love – a love shown in the sacrifice of Jesus for us. Can we return that love in kind?
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