Second Sunday of Lent: The Covenant of Faith
As I mentioned in the homilies I had last week, what I would like to do this year during Lent is focus on the first readings. The first readings for the Sundays of Lent present various covenants. This Sunday our focus is on Abraham and the Covenant of Faith. We use the term faith in many ways. Sometimes we use the term to point to a particular religion. "I am a member of the Catholic faith. The people across the street are members of the Lutheran faith. Those down the block are members of the Methodist faith." Sometimes we use the term to refer to the sum teaching of the Church. For example, "Our faith teaches us that we have a responsibility to reach out to the poor." Sometimes we use the term to explain a certain belief, such as "I cannot understand the Trinity, but I believe in it because it is an article of our faith." Very often, we use the term faith to refer to our trust in another, "I have faith that my wife will pick me up at the airport."
The most important use of the term faith, though, is our complete trust in God. This is how faith is used in today's reading from Genesis. Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Yet, God had also told him that he would be the father of many nations.
How could this happen if he were to listen to God and sacrifice his son? Abraham had to have faith that somehow God would fulfill his promise.
Let's pause for a second, though, and remember that the Hebrews never practiced human sacrifice. In fact, one of the reasons that God allowed their enemies to conquer them at the time of the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities was that some Israelites had left Yahweh and joined in with the pagan sacrifice rituals even in some cases sacrificing their own children. This was a complete abomination before God and man. Yet, in today's first reading Abraham was told to sacrifice his son. This was not because God wanted human sacrifice, but because He wanted to test Abraham to see how great his faith really was. Would he sacrifice his only son, the one whom he loved? The Fathers of the Early Church also saw in this call for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac a prophecy of the extent of the Father's love for his people. Abraham's decision to sacrifice his son, Isaac, prefigured the Father's decision to sacrifice the Son, Jesus.
God had told Abraham to do something that seemed utterly absurd. Yet, Abraham had faith that somehow God would work out his promise and his plan. Abraham completely trusted in God even though everything around him and within him told him differently.
What faith Abraham had! What faith you have! I have been gifted with witnessing this type of faith over and over again in so many of you and your families.
Let me give you a beautiful example from just last week. A while back I saw two young brothers entering the Church, a sixteen year old and a fourteen year old. The sixteen year old is challenged. Many of you know him, or at least have been at Mass with him. He prays in his own way, with his own sounds which are not all that pleasant, but he comes here to pray with his family, and he is welcome here. In fact, I am edified by the way that the members of the parish accept him. What stood out to me last Sunday, though, was not the sixteen year old but his fourteen year old brother. When the two walked into the Church, the younger boy saw that his brother was frightened. His brother looked around, stopped and then started sucking his thumb. Perhaps the crowd scared him. Or maybe he just lost track of where his mother was. That's when I saw the younger boy take his brother's hand and guide him to the pew his Mom had picked out. I pointed this out to one of our servers saying, "Look, how beautifully that boy is taking care of his brother." What a wonderful man that fourteen year old is going to become.” What a wonderful child he is now. His brother has been a gift to him, as well as to the whole family and to our parish. I am also convinced that no matter how much work the older child takes, his parents love him deeply and could not bear the thought of a life without him. He is special in a many more ways than implied in the term special education.
Consider this: for this boy to be born, his parents had to take a leap of faith. They had to trust God even though there were many telling them to do something terrible, something they would have regretted for the rest of their lives. But they trusted in God, and they and their other children and we have been blessed.
Abraham trusted in God, and God made with him the covenant of faith. This family and our parish are receiving their portion of the covenant of faith.
Many children in our parish are adopted. Many of the adults in our parish were adopted when they were children. How much faith their parents, both their birth parents and their adoptive parents had to have in God! Many people were telling that pregnant woman to find a horrible solution to her situation. But she, in her own way, had faith that God would work it all out for the good. Many people cautioned the adoptive parents that this might be more difficult than they imagined, but they trusted in God.
Abraham trusted in God, and God made with him the covenant of faith. These parents, birth and adoptive, are now celebrating the gift of the covenant of faith.
You married folks made a decision to give yourselves to God by giving yourselves to each other and by accepting the gift of each other. You needed faith in God to marry well. Your decision to marry in the Church was ultimately a realization that this is what God wanted. He wanted to be present in your marriage in the way of a sacrament. Your decision to marry your spouse was a matter of trusting in God, even though the future may have appeared to be unclear. Your decision to have children was also a decision to put your complete trust in God.
Abraham trusted in God, and God made with him the covenant of faith. You look at your spouse, you look at your children, and yes neither they nor you are perfect, but you look at them and you realize that you also have received the gift of the covenant of faith.
I could tell similar beautiful stories about so many of you and your families. You could have turned from trusting in God when so many around you suggested solutions to your challenges which would have ultimately pushed you away from God. Or you could have simply become cynical; instead, you chose to be people of faith. You know that God will work it all out. You don't know how, but somehow. And He will. This is your share in the covenant of faith.
"If God is for us, who can be against us,” St. Paul asks in today's second reading. Life has its challenges, but each challenge can be met and conquered simply by trusting in God to work his wonders in our lives.
God will take care of you. And He will take care of me. We trust in Him. We have faith in Him. And when the challenges appear insurmountable, when our faith appears weak, we call out with that man in Mark 9:24. "I do believe, Lord. Help those parts of me that don't believe." And we trust in God to form with us, as He did with Abraham, a covenant of faith.