Under the care of the Discalced Carmelite Friars
Second Sunday of Lent.B
The theme of the 2nd Sund of Lent jumps out at us from the opening words of the first reading:
`God put Abraham to the test.`
And God seems to us to have put him to the test in an extraordinarily dramatic way – demanding that he sacrifice his only son. It doesn’t in fact happen, but when St. Paul alluded to this non-event he could say: `God did not spare his only Son, but gave him up for the benefit of us all.` Whatever about us being able to throw up our hands in anguish at the thought of Abraham`s dilemma, it seems to me we are completely lost when it comes to delving into the mystery of God`s plan of redemption referred to by St. Paul.
In fact also as we listen to the story we should be aware that one the great lessons people were meant to learn from the attempted sacrifice of Isaac, was that God did not require human sacrifice. At that time child sacrifice was widely practised by the surrounding pagan nations – immolating their children to the god Moloch. A Jewish interpretation of this story holds that the lesson was that you mustn`t commit murder in the name of God. When the Emperor of the Incas was defeated and captured by the Spanish conquisadores in the 16th century, he was given the choice of being burnt at the stake as a heathen or converting to Christianity and merely being garrotted. This was even worse than Hobson`s Choice. And though times have changed, this lesson has still not been learned by religious fanatics even in our own 21st century – they are only too keen to follow the lead of the Spaniards.
We often say – but only in regard to trivial matters: `These things are sent to try us`, but Abraham`s trial was one of a different order. He was being asked to empty his life of meaning, to negate all that he had so far achieved, to bury his dreams and start all over again.The only difference was that there was no guarantee that things would works out as well the second time round. After all both his and Sarah`s biological clocks were now ticking frantically away.
We use another spiritual cliché when we say: `God will not be outdone in generosity` but its true. Instead a few children or grandchildren Abraham might have expected he is now promised innumerable offspring as a reward for his fidelity. God`s generosity is indeed boundless.
So the lesson for us from all this is clear: our dreams will indeed be realised though not in the way we might have anticipated. As we sometimes sing: `The dreams I have today , my Lord, are only a shadow of your dreams for me.`
As the liturgy of the word comes to a climax in the gospel, we again encounter the beloved Son referred to by St. Paul:
`This is my Son the beloved , listen to him`
The Canadian Jean Vanier, whom I heard speak on two occasions ,once in Dublin and once in Sydney, founded the L`Arche Community to look after people with disability. He has a lovely comment on this phrase from Mark`s gospel. In one of his communities there is a mentally handicapped person called Pierre. When somebody asked Pierre if he liked praying he said, `I do`. And what do you do when you pray, said the questioner? `I listen`, was the reply. And what does God say? `He says, `Pierre you are my beloved son`.
The point of the word of God today is to see if we are prepared to be tested as Jesus was. Many of us have perhaps experienced some enlightened moments or have some glorious memories of the beauty of the Christian calling . Unfortunately these can tend to fade away and leave no trace. The question then is: ` Are we prepared to come down from the mountain with Jesus, to relinquish our moments of metamorphosis and walk along the rugged way with the Lord? Perhaps with the disciples we are not even sure what `rising from the dead ` might mean.
Many years ago I remember visiting a London hospital where a friend of ours – a Sister of Mercy – appeared to be dying of cancer .Her brother and sister had come over from Ireland to be with her – probably their first trip there. But she rallied and a few days later she told us: ` In the last few days I have had many deaths and many resurrections.` Her brother and sister and her best friend are now dead themselves but she is still alive.
Perhaps we too are called to endure many deaths and enjoy any resurrections in a less dramatic way than this perhaps, as we struggle along the road of life. That road leads inexorably towards a final death which however in the Christian vision of things opens to eternal life.
Tadgh Tierney ocd.