Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles on the theme, “Being Lifted Up In Christ as Catholic Men.”
Let’s look at Abraham, one of the earliest figures in the Bible to have experienced God lifting him up and changing his life. When God first called him, Abraham was a wealthy but childless nomad living in Mesopotamia. Abraham didn’t feel needy at all. He was simply doing what he thought he should do with his life. But that all changed when God revealed himself and said: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk… . I will make of you a great nation” (Genesis 12:1,2).
Whatever happened then between God and Abraham must have been significant. Abraham left and moved to Hebron. God was so pleased with this response that he made a promise to Abraham: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so shall your descendants be” (Genesis 15:5). Now, if Abraham did not respond to the original encounter, do you think he would have heard this promise? Probably not.
When God wanted to confirm his promises, he simply asked Abraham to keep his covenant by setting himself apart for God and staying faithful to him (Genesis 17:9-14). Still, Abraham found it hard to believe that God would give him and his wife, Sarah, a child. He even laughed at the thought (17:17). But something in this encounter with God moved Abraham, and he decided to follow the path God had laid out for him, even though human logic told him that it was impossible. Sarah was no different. She too laughed at the prospect of conceiving a child—and when called to account for it by the Lord, she even lied (18:12-15).
Years later, when God told Abraham about his plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham felt comfortable enough with God to try to prevent such a catastrophe. With humility and persistence, Abraham interceded to the Lord and somehow altered God’s plan. His nephew, Lot, was permitted to escape unharmed (Genesis 18:17-–19:23).
Then came the time when God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Abraham must have been puzzled, for God had told him that it was through Isaac that all of his promises would be fulfilled (Genesis 21:12). How could he kill this son—whom he loved deeply—and still see the future unfold as God had promised? Despite the confusion and the heartache, Abraham made ready to obey. Seeing how faithful and trusting Abraham was, God intervened at the last minute and promised him: “Because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing—all this because you obeyed my command” (22:16-18).
The Beginning of a Long Line
This is a remarkable story about a remarkable man who was led along a path of ever-increasing faith. Time after time, Abraham was lifted up and drawn closer to God. And each time, he grasped more clearly what God was doing—and that deepened his faith. Abraham’s entire life is an example to us of what happens when God works in a person’s heart—and when that person responds to God in faith, surrender, and trust.
We need to know that even when we question God as Abraham did, he still works with us. Even when we lie or commit some other sin, as Sarah did, he still reaches out to us. Even when we try to negotiate with God, as Abraham did for Lot, he hangs in there with us. Even when we laugh at God’s plans, he doesn’t abandon us. And when we finally entrust everything to God as Abraham did with Isaac, we find God faithful, and we find ourselves rewarded greatly.
Abraham stood at the beginning of a long line of patriarchs and matriarchs, prophets and prophetesses, kings and queens, as well as everyday people throughout the Hebrew Bible—heroes and heroines who were touched by God and lifted up to a new way of living. What’s more, with the coming of Christ and the gift of his Holy Spirit, this grace is no longer limited to just a chosen few. Countless saints of the church—both recognized and hidden—have been lifted up and transformed. From age to age, millions of believers have experienced God’s grace!
Lift Up Your Heart!
The story of Abraham and Isaac can help us understand just how much God wants to lift us up. More than two thousand years after God spared Abraham’s only son, Isaac, he chose not to spare his only Son, Jesus—even after Jesus prayed that “this cup” would pass him by (Matthew 26:39). Surely God loved his Son even more deeply than Abraham loved Isaac. But he loved us so much—and so did his Son—that he freely gave him up for us. God’s willingness to sacrifice his only Son for us demonstrates the lengths to which he will go to save us, to teach us, and to lift us up to his side.
At every Mass, we are invited: “Lift up your hearts,” and we respond by saying, “We lift them up to the Lord.” What do you think would happen if each of us used this moment to actually do just that? What would the church look like if we all set our position at every Eucharist, saying:
“Jesus, I want to be drawn closer to you. I don’t want anything to get in the way. Come, Lord, and lift all of us up so that we can know you better and love you more.”
( Joe Difato is the publisher of “The Word Among Us” devotional magazine. To contact him, go to his website at www.joedifato.com . Many thanks to The Word Among Us (http://www.wau.org/ ) for allowing us to use his articles from their August issue. Used with permission.)
Questions for Reflection/Discussion by Catholic Men
1. The article describes how Abraham experienced God lifting him up and how it transformed his life. How would you describe what happened to Abraham?
2. Abraham is called “our father in faith” (see Romans 4:16,17). For Abraham, his faith was not only a belief in God, but it also required a response. Why is this necessary? Share a time when you responded in faith to a call of God. What were the results?
3. God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. Because he is omniscient, God knew that Abraham would past this test. Could it be that the test was for Abraham’s benefit? Could it be that through this test, Abraham knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that he had the faith to trust God in all circumstances? What do you think? Share a time when your faith grew as a result of being “tested.”
4. Even though God spared Isaac, Abraham’s beloved and only son, he did not spare Jesus, his beloved and only Son. He did not spare him out of his great love for you and I. What impact does this truth have on your relationship with the Lord and how you live your life?
5. The good news of Jesus Christ is that the grace of being “touched by God and lifted up to a new way of living” is for all of us. As the article puts it: “What’s more, with the coming of Christ and the gift of his Holy Spirit, this grace is no longer limited to just a chosen few. Countless saints of the church—both recognized and hidden—have been lifted up and transformed. From age to age, millions of believers have experienced God’s grace!” How have you experienced this grace?
6. The article reminds us that we respond at Mass to the invitation: “Lift up your hearts,” by saying, “We lift them up to the Lord.” Over the next few weeks make an effort to truly lift your heart to the Lord at this time during Mass. Share what happened with the men in your men’s group and others.
7. If you are in a men’s group, pray for one another that each of you would experience what it means to be lifted up to the Lord and to be transformed more and more into his image and likeness (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). Use the prayer at the end of the article as the starting point.
(The discussion questions were created by Maurice Blumberg, a Trustee of the National Fellowship of Catholic Men (http://www.catholicmensresources.org/ ), and currently the Director of Partner Relations for Partners in Evangelism , (http://www2.wau.org/partners/ ), a Ministry of The Word Among Us to the Military and Prisoners . Maurice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)