March 16, 2014
Second Sunday of Lent
It is easy to think that God is distant, uncaring, comfortably sitting in the sky somewhere, and ignoring us. We have a lot of problems and if we were omnipotent, that’s probably how we would treat humanity and everybody else. Total, absolute power sounds like a quick way to establish permanent, perfectly comfortable vacation away from all the noise, evils and “issues” that take up so much of our time. After Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, God could have condemned humanity to reap the harvest of its own sin. He could have left us to our own devices or even annihilated us. But he didn’t. Instead, he tracked down a guy named Abraham and calls him to do something unusual—to believe.
Lectionary Plan for Lent
On this Second Sunday of Lent, the Lectionary provides us with a second snapshot of salvation history. The Sunday Old Testament readings for Lent follow a chronological progression. In the first week, we hear of Adam and Eve, in the second, Abraham, then Moses and David, then finally the prophets Ezekiel and Isaiah. In this way, the Lectionary takes us by the hand for a whirlwind tour of humanity’s creation, fall, and promised redemption, which will be brought about by Jesus during Holy Week. This chronological telling of Salvation History will be recapitulated in the many readings of the Easter Vigil.
God Launches His Rescue Mission
Here in Genesis 12, God launches his rescue mission to fallen humanity. Adam and Eve sinned; Noah’s generation sinned; the people after the Flood sinned. Our ancestors established a rather consistent track record. God now initiates a more drastic—and yet more subtle—plan of action. He puts in a call to Abraham, who lived in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and later in Haran (in modern Turkey). This is the beginning of the story of salvation, God’s intervention in history. In fact, when St. Stephen offers his defense to the Sanhedrin, he starts the retelling of salvation history with the call of Abraham (Acts 7:3). The Lord invites Abraham on a mission. He calls him to leave his homeland and family and go to a place where he has never been in order to initiate God’s rescue plan for humanity. Abraham plays a key role as the father of the Chosen People and the Father of Faith. His “yes” to God begins the story of Israel, within which Jesus will appear to bring salvation to the whole world.
Promises and Fulfillments
When calling Abraham to leave, the Lord offers him three main promises: a great name, land and worldwide blessing (“to all the families of the earth”). The “great name” promise might sound like a promise of fame or wealth, but what God is offering to Abraham is a royal dynasty, that kings will come from his line of descendants (cf. Gen 17:6). This promise will be fulfilled in the reign of David and his dynasty. The promise of land points to the special land of Canaan which God set aside for the people of Israel. The promise of land points back to the Garden of Eden, forward to the Temple, and ultimately to a sharing in God’s own rest—that permanent vacation I mentioned. Lastly, God promises that he will use Abraham to bless all the families of the earth—not just his own descendants, but everybody, both Jew and Gentile. This promise will reach fulfillment in the spread of the Gospel message: that God offers salvation to all through his son Jesus, that the path to God’s rest, the ultimate Promised Land, is now open to anyone willing to repent and believe.
Abraham, the Father of Faith
Abraham’s response to God’s grand promises and call is very simple, but it changes the course of human history: he obeys. The passage says, “Abraham went as the Lord directed him” (Gen 12:4 NAB). His straightforward response reveals what true faith looks like. Faith is not an emotion, nor is it some complex philosophy. Rather, it is a trust in God that bears fruit in obedience. St. Paul talks about the “obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5). Abraham demonstrates what this looks like by simply obeying God’s calling. Abraham is the father of all who have faith, all who trust in God for salvation, all who believe in the Gospel of his son Jesus (Romans 4). St. Paul says, “those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal 3:9). We get to enter into the worldwide blessing promised to Abraham by believing. Faith is the doorway into God’s blessing.
Abraham’s choice to obey God, to heed his call, to leave his comfort zone and follow God offers us a stirring example. God’s calling on our lives might not be as earth shattering or history altering as Abraham’s call, yet we can respond with the same faith and generosity that he did. In addition, Abraham’s call shows us that while we might think we’re the ones searching for God, it is actually he that is searching for us. He initiates the relationship. As part of his invitation to Abraham, he includes promises. His fidelity to these promises, demonstrated through the history of Israel and the life of Jesus, encourages us that we have a God who remembers and is trustworthy. We can respond to his call with a well-founded hope of entering into that rest which He enjoys.