Sister Anna Maria, a member of the Missionary Daughters of Calvary, prays during an early Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Savior Church in Jerusalem's Old City Feb. 22. Catholics around the world began the penitential season of Lent with prayer, fasting and the mark of ashes. CNS photo/Debbie Hill

Jesus Christ’s love for mankind holds nothing back

  • February 22, 2012

Second Sunday of Lent (Year B) March 4 (Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Rom 8:31b-34; Mk 9:2-10)

Can you imagine being asked to give away your most precious possession — a gift for which you had waited your entire life? And what if that prized gift was a beloved child?

Abraham had only God’s promise to energize his life journey and for many years it seemed as if this energy had run out. God promised an heir, one through whom Abraham would live on for countless generations. In fact, Abraham’s name would be used by the nations of the Earth as a blessing. For this he had been willing to leave behind everything — homeland, kin and culture — to become a wanderer for God. The biological clock was ticking rapidly for both Abraham and Sarah and their hopes began to wane. But God was faithful and true and Sarah gave birth to Isaac, the child of promise — the same child that “God” was now asking Abraham to sacrifice.

The story is not pretty; in fact it is downright chilling. What kind of God would ask a parent to kill a child as a sacrifice? And what kind of parent would obey? Was this God commanding the sacrifice or Abraham’s imagination? Did he know God well enough to be certain that He would not have to follow through? We will never know for sure. But one thing we do know: God does not ask us to do such things and we cannot appeal to this passage as an excuse to do so. We should be extremely wary of divine commands that ask us to do things unworthy of God or even ordinary decency.

Perhaps this story is included in the narrative specifically for its starkness and shocking nature. It drives home the point about trust and commitment in vivid terms that would have been meaningful to people of the third millennium BC. The spiritual point of the story — to be completely openhanded and non-possessive with the gifts of God and to withhold nothing from God is certainly valid. The Church Fathers used this story as a “type” or preview of the crucifixion of Jesus, also a beloved son.  Jesus expressed His own absolute trust by laying aside safety, comfort, status and even life itself.  

“God is for us” — this passage has often been misunderstood as “God is for my country, ideology, group or cause.” But Paul is merely insisting that God is there for us — even in the depths of struggle, hardship, danger or misery. This is the point where many become bitter and disillusioned or lose faith, but it is in these experiences that the love of Christ Jesus for each one of us will be strongest. We will overcome all of these things, including a painful awareness of our own failures and weaknesses, because of the abundant love of Jesus who held back nothing for our sakes.

The apostles who were with Jesus were overawed at what they had seen but at the same time puzzled. Jesus, surrounded by dazzling white light, was talking to Moses and Elijah. This was not coincidental. The fact that Moses and Elijah appeared to have been “briefing” Jesus for His impending entry into Jerusalem emphasizes the continuity of His mission with all of salvation history as well as the fulfilment of God’s promises. There was a heavenly voice earlier in the Gospel at the baptism of Jesus that proclaimed Jesus the Beloved Son. It was a voice of confirmation and encouragement at the beginning of His ministry. The same affirming voice from the cloud once again acknowledged the special status of Jesus but also commanded the apostles to listen to Him.

What did Jesus say? He spoke of the necessity of His own cross and suffering, but He also exhorted all who claim His name to follow in His footsteps. Jesus will meet the cross in Jerusalem but not as a sacrifice demanded by God. He will freely lay down His life as a testimony to the teachings of God that He taught, proclaimed and applied throughout His life: compassion, mercy, courage, integrity, justice, harmony with the divine will and non-violence. This willing self-sacrifice for our sake enabled Him to be with us always as a source of strength, inspiration and solace. We also share in this ministry whenever we pattern our own lives on the self-giving of Jesus.

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