2nd Sunday of Lent B - Homily 3

Homily 3 - 2012

Perhaps we should not take too much notice of the details of today's First Reading about young Isaac's close shave with sacrificial death. The story is one that has come out of the mists of antiquity and been told and retold around Israel's campfires until eventually taking written form many centuries later. But there is one element that is striking. The narrative refers to one voice that it simply calls god, and to another that it identifies either as the Lord or the angel of the Lord.

The voice of the one identified as god demands that Abraham kill his son Isaac in sacrifice to him. The demand sounds shocking to us; but in Abraham's day it was accepted practice in the religions of the Middle East. However, the voice of the one identified as the Lord [or the angel of the Lord] forbids the human sacrifice and substitutes an animal, a ram, for the child. And then it makes to Abraham the wonderful promise of blessing: of countless descendants and of prestige, power and wealth. 

Perhaps the story records a monumental breakthrough in humanity's evolving insight into the mystery of God: from the universal acceptance of a god tied into death and violence, [that saturated the minds of Abraham's contemporaries and that Abraham still heard in the depths of his own psyche] to a slowly dawning recognition that God may have nothing to do with death or violence but be a God of life and of blessing.

 We may be tempted to think of Abraham as somewhat primitive; yet people still wrestle with the same instincts that influenced him. How many people associate God with disasters, with sickness, suffering and death, diminishments of all kinds, seeing them as punishments or tests or trials, even piously consoling the bereaved with such thoughtless sentiments as: "God only takes the best"? I am not saying that suffering or death is easily explained – but let's get our sense of God straight. We are the ones up to our necks in violence and killing. 

 In the case of Jesus, human persons were the ones who planned and carried out the killing, not God. As Paul expressed it in today's Second Reading: In Jesus – God become human – God came among us, knowing we would kill him, yet trusting/hoping that, through the violent murder of one so obviously innocent, we would be shocked into recognising our ways of violence, realise that we are constantly up to it, and change our ways. Violence is endemic to us, not to God.

The world's violence has become second nature. Today on International Women's Day, it is good to be reminded that the victims of the world's violence are predominantly women. We see their faces on our TV screens. We take it for granted, hardly noticing it - and carry on with "business as usual".

Today’s Gospel reminds us that, with the possible exceptions of Peter, James and John after Jesus' transfiguration, the apostles were unaware of the mystery of Jesus. Wonderfully, through baptism, we have all been "Christed". Somehow, we share in the mysterious life of the now-risen Jesus, effectively transfigured. As God once said of Jesus: This is my Son, the beloved, God now says of me, of you: "You are my child, the beloved". We are largely unaware of it – unmindful of the wonder of our own dignity, and heedless of each other's. Until we are imbued with a deep sense of human dignity, we shall continue to relate to each other with hostility. 

We need to listen. We need to take time. We need to create silence. We need, all of us, to become contemplatives. Our world would be a better place.