God Shows Abram the Stars, von Carolsfeld c.1860, Bibel in Bildern (Bible in Pictures).

Click here to read today’s Sunday Mass Readings. 

The LORD said to Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.     Genesis 12:1.

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Last week I mentioned the wisdom enclosed in the pious myth of the Garden of Eden and all that followed, stating clearly that myth does not imply falsehood in any way but rather wisdom expressed in such a way as to make its profundity understandable. I contend that all that followed the expulsion from Eden in Genesis, which is to say the Flood, the Tower of Babel, the great ages of the ancestors of Abram (which was his name before God changed it to Abraham) and so on, is also profound pious myth designed to help us understand profound truth. Only in the 12th chapter of Genesis, today’s first reading, does God enter actual human history with God talking to a very old man, who though childless, was told he would have descendants as many as the stars in the sky (Abram was 75 years old we are told in verse 4). It was on one day out of the blue Abram heard this voice telling him uproot everything and move to a land that “I will show you” as God said. I do wonder if God had asked others to do that same thing only to be rejected, perhaps with profanity and ridicule. But Abram was a man who listened and almost certainly debated within himself if this voice was to be believed and obeyed or not. Abram decided the still, small voice was, indeed, the real thing, the voice of God, and obeyed.

Then we have today’s gospel where God (the Father) revealed that Jesus was truly the Son of God for the benefit of Jesus’ three main disciples, witnesses to the scene. Hence, after that, Jesus too was credible and to be obeyed. The second reading, Paul’s second letter to Timothy, assumes that he and his followers have also accepted Jesus as the real thing, and must now live up to his standards, “calling us to a holy life” away from the sins and treachery of a life without God. All three readings, then, reveal to us in one way or another a call to a life with God. Not easy: Abram had to move to a new land and people at age 75; it was not without fear as Peter James and John shivered in their shoes on witnessing an unbelievable scene; and not without a conviction to do what God wants us to do, as Paul reminded Timothy. And all this as we get deeper into the holy season of Lent…

2020 Lenten Meditations, Our Little Roses, Honduras, Central America.

You might have wondered why God intervened at all, having looked at the first eleven chapters of Genesis. Things seemed to have settled down, God promised no more killer floods of the size that almost wiped out all of humanity, people were living longer, and so on. Well, it was not so rosy, and there was a situation which, I think, drove God to intervene in human history, and it was happening in a pagan land then called Canaan, now Israel, to which God led Abram. And it was in Canaan that the socially acceptable custom of child sacrifice was practiced. And what is more, there was a reasonable and logical rationale behind it all, clearly accepted by the people and ruling élite of Canaan. That was, simply put, that if you wanted something from the gods, they used the only model they had of obtaining what they wanted – they had to buy it! If it was an enormously important request, such as security from invasion, or earthquakes or plague, then the cost would be high. You cannot throw bank notes at the sky or behave in purely human terms; no: it had to be something else entirely. Hence sacrificing your child fitted the bill. Logical, extreme and nothing more expensive could be imagined. I think it was this abomination which moved God to intervene. And note, it was not to destroy these people, it was to introduce in their midst a new people who would succeed without practicing such a brutal remedy for extreme need. Hence the Hebrews showed child sacrifice for what it was, barbaric and inhuman. But even among the Hebrews it was a challenge. The Bible has several references to Jewish leaders being tempted to try child sacrifice as an answer to their problems. This also explains why Abraham did not protest God’s demand that he sacrifice his only son Isaac to him to prove his loyalty; it was what was done then. God stopping him at the last moment was the way God demonstrated that this terrible, illogical, evil act was never – ever – to be practiced again. 

So each reading today has motives: God wanting a new, pure people to show the Canaanites a better life, to set a godly example of human living and how it can succeed; 2nd Timothy talks of how we should behave, following the model of Jesus, with the destruction of death and the promise of immortal life as the goals; and the gospel proving Jesus was what he was, God’s Son, loved and supported by his Father and the prophets and to be trusted completely. All of which gives us plenty of Lenten thought and encouragement. And finally, perhaps it would be a challenge if each of us were to look inside our own lives and see if there is something there which is so unacceptable to God that would drive God to search for a means which would challenge us to reform and become what God wants each of us to be. That would be the Lenten challenge!

The Transfiguration, the Incarnation Dome, Leandro Miguel Velasco, 2007, National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Washington DC, USA. 


Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.




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