Have Faith in God’s Rescue Mission

March 16, 2014
Second Sunday of Lent
Genesis 12:1-4a
http://usccb.org/bible/readings/031614.cfm

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.

Dr. Mark Giszczak

By

Mark Giszczak (“geese-check”) was born and raised in Ann Arbor, MI. He studied philosophy and theology at Ave Maria College in Ypsilanti, MI and Sacred Scripture at the Augustine Institute of Denver, CO. He recently received his Ph. D. in Biblical Studies at the Catholic University of America. He currently teaches courses in Scripture at the Augustine Institute, where he has been on faculty since 2010. Dr. Giszczak has participated in many evangelization projects and is the author of the CatholicBibleStudent.com blog. He has written introductions to every book of the Bible that are hosted at CatholicNewsAgency.com. Dr. Giszczak, his wife and their daughter, live in Colorado where they enjoy camping and hiking in the Rocky Mountains.

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  • noelfitz

    Dr Giszczak,

    Thank you for this article. I find it challenging and difficult to understand, and thus worth thinking about and trying to resolve my problems.

    First of all can the story of Abraham be used as a justification for a Jewish claim to land
    from Iraq to Egypt? Presumably not.

    I was taught that for Protestants faith is trust in God, akin to Catholic hope, but we
    Catholics consider it more as acceptance of the teaching of the Church.

    I read here “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)”. Thus this suggests that Abraham is not the father of Jews or Muslims?

    Does this article suggest that salvation is only offered to Christians? I had considered that the view of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” means that those who are saved are saved
    through the merits of Christ, even though they may never have heard of Christ,
    but receive “Baptism of Desire” by wanting to do good.

    Finally I read of a person who claimed he had a vision where he was ordered by God to kill his son, he did so and was condemned to life in a mental institution.

    So you see I have difficulties. What should my answer be? Perhaps it is simply that God chose Abraham that he travelled to what is now Israel, and from him descended Jesus who is our Savior.

  • chaco

    What “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” means for me, is that, similar to our own Justice System, sentencing is directly proportionate to one’s degree of awareness of the seriousness of their crime/ knowledgable-willful intent. In regard to divine/ Final Judgement, only God can determine the degree of being knowledegable/ culpable because only he can read the conscience. If the deepest word is soul (created in God’s Image), it is thus possible that even in the soul that looks most evil to us, there could still be at least a slight amount of ignorance, thereby qualifying them for a purgatorial cleansing. This glimmer of hope doesn’t exist for angels who have complete clarity when choosing between good & evil.

  • noelfitz

    Chaco,

    I am very grateful to you for your thoughtful reply to me, that is completely compatible
    with Catholicism (at least as far as I understand it).

    You wrote “only he (God) can read the conscience”. Thus all we can do is hope in God’s
    mercy. However God is all powerful and maybe even fallen angels will be saved by God’s love and mercy. Origen, and perhaps St Paul and von Balthasar have hinted at this (e.g. “one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all” (NRSV, Rom
    5:18).

    I am very pleased that you replied to me so sensitively. Here in Ireland Catholics are going through a very rough time and we need support and encouragement. I am here
    to be built-up and strengthened in the faith, yet I want to be free to express,
    charitably and honestly my concerns.

    So I am very grateful to you and CE for your reply.

    Again, sincerest thanks.

  • chaco

    You’re Welcome; I think the only unforgivable sin is complete/ total indifference. As long as one is sincerely seeking, they will receive spiritual freedom/ fulfillment in direct proportion to their degree of sincerity. I have also received spiritual affirmation that “The Chair of Peter” is trustworthy. [ Indisputable historical evidence shows that even so-called "Evil Popes" were unable to cause contradictions in the preserved integrity of our beliefs since the time of the Apostles.] Thus, I whole-heartedly believe the teaching from Holy Mother Church that fallen angels were irrevocably aware/ informed of their rebellion against God. I have no saddness in holding this view; I regard demons as beings that have willingly discarded any good God created them with and are thereby void of any love whatsoever. How can one be sad about total evil being banished from total good/ Love ?

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