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At first sight the testing of Abraham’s faith is deeply disturbing

Second Sunday of Lent: Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Ps 116; 1 Rm 8:31b-34; Mk 9:2-10

By on Saturday, 3 March 2012

“God put Abraham to the test. ‘Take your son, your only child Isaac, whom you love. Go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering.’ ”

At first sight the testing of Abraham’s faith is deeply disturbing. How could a loving God demand such a sacrifice of Abraham? Abraham’s life had been given to the promise that the God of Israel would provide him with both a homeland and the offspring to settle in the land. Where was Abraham’s faith if God demanded that he sacrifice the long-awaited child of the promise?

The conclusion of the narrative demonstrates that Abraham, entrusting himself to God alone, rather than to his many gifts, was vindicated in his faith. “Because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven.”

Abraham had refused to abandon his trust in God at the very moment that his most cherished hopes were threatened with obliteration.

At the beginning of Lent Abraham’s trust cannot fail to question the steadfastness of our faith. We entrust ourselves to God, but suspect that we are governed not so much by our faith, but by the hidden limits of selfishness and sin. Abraham did not hesitate to surrender his beloved Son to God’s hidden purpose. On a lesser scale we hesitate to surrender our comfort, our pride and possessiveness to the unfolding of God’s will.

It is through our Lenten repentance that we begin to probe our hidden resistance to the will of God. Abraham was willing to surrender his only Son. Can we not surrender the comparatively trivial barriers that distance us from the love of God?

The fullness of Revelation understood, in the sacrifice of Isaac, an anticipation of the Father’s love in the surrender of his Son to death on a cross. St Paul was overwhelmed by a love that stretches human comprehension: “Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give.”

It is only natural, in human reckoning, to balance loss and gain. St Paul rejoiced that no such reckoning diminished the Father’s love for a sinful people. The God who had spared the son of Abraham did not withhold the gift of his only begotten Son. The Son died so that by his death we might share his Resurrection.

At the beginning of Lent the Transfiguration prefigures our sharing in the life of our Risen Lord. The first disciples had embarked on a journey with Jesus. As that journey drew closer to Jerusalem the storm clouds were already gathering. Their discipleship would not be an easy deliverance from life’s daily hardship. In fact, the reverse was rapidly emerging. Their discipleship could well cost them everything.

It was at this point that Jesus shared with his disciples the truth that lay at the heart of the life that they shared with Jesus. Taking with him Peter, James and John, Jesus was revealed in his glory as the Son of God. Words could not convey what the disciples saw and understood. Peter’s remark – “it is wonderful to be here” – expressed the realisation that we are called to live beyond the ordinary and everyday, that one day we shall rejoice in the presence of God.