2nd Sunday of Lent B - Homily 5

Homily 5 - 2018

Our cultures seem amazingly fascinated by death, by killing. Where does the fascination come from? Does it give us unconsciously the exhilarating feeling of power, of omnipotence? Or is it rather an indication of powerlessness, an all-pervading sense of despair?

It’s everywhere. It colours openness to euthanasia, abortion, to ISIS’ beheading of enemies, to terrorism, to allied involvement in the killing fields of Iraq and Afghanistan and now of Syria, to capital punishment and the burning issue of gun control in America. I was appalled to hear on TV on Friday night a spokesman for the gun lobby in the US saying that the answer to the unprecedented spate of mass shootings there was to arm the teachers, the good men, to shoot those he called the bad men. It sounded like a film clip from an old-time Western. Did it not occur to the gun lobbyist that there would be fewer killings if bad men and good men alike had no access to lethal weapons at all? And now Australia wants a bigger stake in the international armaments industry.

Fascination with death is not new. Four thousand years ago, Abraham was caught up in it. In his time human sacrifice, particularly child sacrifice, was acceptable practice The Scripture writers who in later centuries recorded the old stories had no problem, it seems, in conceiving of God ordering Abraham to kill and then burn the son he loved, Isaac, to prove the extent of his obedience.

In this case they said that God was only testing Abraham – God in fact would “spare his son”. But why test? and why in such an inhuman, uncaring way? Such testing assumed a primitive, brutal sense of God. Israel still had some way to go across its chequered history gradually to uncover the true face of the consistently loving, utterly non-violent God.

Abraham loved his son. After the tragedy of his being childless for eighty years or so, his sterile wife Sarah had mysteriously become pregnant. The promises that God had made about Abraham’s descendants multiplying, filling the land and becoming in time source of blessing not only for themselves but for people of “all nations”, had become possible. Abraham was ecstatic. And then, this mindless, unbelievably cruel command, “Take your son… whom you love… There you shall offer him as a burnt offering.” In any circumstances, Abraham’s faith, that somehow “God would provide”, was astonishing.

This story of Abraham and Isaac enjoys a pivotal place in the great monotheist faiths of Israel, Islam and Christianity. Both Mark in today’s Gospel and Paul in today’s Second Reading used Abraham’s love for Isaac to throw light on the love of the Father exhibited In Jesus’ death. Mark had the voice from the cloud identify Jesus as, “my Son, [whom I love].” Paul wrote, “God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up, to benefit us all” – Jewish descendants of Abraham, and Gentile converts from “all nations”.

The problem of Jesus’ suffering should always confront us. It provided the context of today’s Transfiguration, which, Mark carefully noted, happened “six days later”. Six days beforehand, Peter had confessed Jesus as the Messiah. Jesus had responded by immediately informing his disciples that he would soon be killed. He then added that all who wanted to be his disciples would also need to be prepared to suffer. The disciples seemed to have moved into psychological denial. That is why the voice from the cloud insisted, “Listen to him”.

We all need to “listen” carefully in order to depth in the crucifixion of Jesus the extent not just of Jesus’ commitment to and consistent love for the human race that killed him. We need to depth also the love of the Father who could still surrender into human hands “the Son whom he loved”, knowing what we would do, in the hope that this confrontation with our violence would alert us at last to our paralysing fascination with death and killing, and lead us to radical change.