Sunday Sermon for February 28, 2021, the Second Sunday of Lent, Year B
Readings: Gen 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Rom 8:31b-34; Mk 9:2-10
In the first reading today, we hear the story of Abraham being tested by God in a way that would be the horror of any parent: Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son. We must consider three points. First, every person is going to be tested. We are all called to love God above all else; indeed, to love Him with our whole heart. The Lord will test us so we will know if something or someone is more important to us than Him.
This sounds, on the surface, to be very selfish. It is not. Recall that God gains nothing from our love. However, if we love Him above all else, then everything and everyone else we love will be loved in God and in the proper way. Also, our priorities will be correct because we have the top priority right and everything else follows from that. So, in asking us to love Him with our whole heart, God is asking us to do what is best for us, and for everyone else we love.
This leads us to the second point regarding Abraham. God will purify and test us more or less depending upon our call and the level of holiness to which we are called. Abraham was called to be the Patriarch of the Jewish people and, the Patriarch of Christians who share the faith of Abraham in the one true God. For this reason, his test was more severe than most people will ever have to endure. This was truly a test of his faith because Isaac was the son of the Promise; if he is gone, how will the promise of God be fulfilled? Recall that Abraham faced that question a number of years earlier and, not seeing a solution, took matters into his own hands. That failed miserably. This time, Abraham put his trust in God, even when it did not appear to make sense. This time he succeeded.
This brings us to the third point: how we can believe in a God Who asks someone to sacrifice his own child? We must note that God did not allow Abraham to carry through with the sacrifice; He was merely testing Abraham to see if God meant more to him than either the promise God had made or the son through whom the promise was to be fulfilled. The trust we need to have in God revolves around the fact that He sacrificed His own Son for us, as St. Paul describes in the second reading.
There were cultures in the ancient world that sacrificed children to the false gods they worshipped. Through the abortion industry, this sacrifice of children continues to happen even in our “modern and advanced” culture. In the story of Abraham, God makes very clear that He does not want human sacrifice. Even for the Hebrew people after the Exodus, the first-born male children had to be redeemed, but not sacrificed. Wherever there is human sacrifice, such a despicable act is offered to demons, not to the Lord.
St. Paul tells us that God will not withhold anything from us because He sacrificed His own Son for us. Doesn’t this mean God wants human sacrifice? No. While Jesus was able to offer Himself as a sacrifice because He took to Himself a human nature, Jesus was not a human person; He is a divine Person. In the story of Abraham and Isaac, it is interesting that Isaac is referred to as the “beloved son.” In the Gospel reading, the voice of the Father refers to Jesus as “my beloved Son.” If God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice that which was most important to him, God would show His love for us by doing for us what He would not allow Abraham to do. God sacrificed the One Who was most important to Him. In this sacrifice of Himself, we must recognize there was nothing greater, higher, or more valuable that God could possibly have sacrificed. All this was done to show us how much He loves us.
If Abraham demonstrated his love for God by his willingness to sacrifice his son, then God proved His love for us by actually sacrificing Himself for us. This is what St. Paul had in mind when he asked if God handed over His own Son for us, will He not give us everything else along with Him? Abraham proved his love for God and can be looked up to and trusted for his faith and charity. God proved His love for us and can be trusted absolutely. So, now the question comes down to us. Do we trust God? Do we love God? Are we willing to sacrifice whatever is most important to us because we love God with our whole heart?
Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit www.thewandererpress.com.