2nd Sunday of Lent Year B
Grow in our faith by embracing the mystery of our faith.
My dear brothers and sisters. Our faith is a mystery. Often, we see this most vividly when God blesses us in mysterious ways. Let us ask ourselves, were there times in my life that I ask God for a favour but God made me wait? Were there times in my life where I do not understand God’s plan in my life? Were there times in my life where God blesses me in ironical ways, when blessings come in the form of challenges, difficulties or even misfortunates? It is times like these that we are called to trust in God’s divine providence. But this is not easy. Our faith is a mystery and unlike a puzzle, a mystery is not something for us to solve. Rather, a mystery is something for us to embrace. And it is only with trust in God that we can embrace a mystery of faith.
Abraham is known as the father of faith. However, Abraham’s journey to faith is a trying one. In Gen 15:2, Abraham lamented to God that he was childless, and his servant Eliezer would become his heir. But God’s made a promise to Abraham, that not only will Abraham have a child of his own, but his descendants will number as the stars in heaven (Gen 15:4-5) God made this as a covenant promise to Abraham, as God Himself, appearing as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch, passed between the sacrificial animals that Abraham prepared (Gen 15:9-17). But after ten years, when Abraham and Sarah were 100 years and 90 years of age respectively, they were still childless. So the couple took matters into their own hands, Sarah gave her slave girl Hagar to Abraham and Hagar conceived. (Gen 16:3-4) In spite of Abraham’s lack of faith, God remained ever faithful to Abraham. God again promised Abraham, that Sarah will bear a son “and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her” (Gen 17:16). Abraham laughed (Gen 17:17). Later on, when God visited the couple, He repeated his promise. Sarah laughed. (Gen 18:10-12). In spite of Abraham’s and Sarah’s lack of faith, true to His words, Sarah conceived soon after and Isaac was born (Gen 21:2-5)
We may feel that Abraham’s and Sarah’s lack of faith were excusable. After all, they remained childless for ten years after God first made His covenant promise to them. But yet as St Peter said, “with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Pt 3:8) Yes, my dear friends, as the popular saying goes, “good things come to those who wait.” The season of waiting is a blessing from God. God makes us wait for a reason. The season of waiting nurtures fidelity and patience in our faith. Single people called to marriage sometimes have to wait for many years to meet the right partner. Married couples called to parenthood sometimes have to wait for many years before they conceive a child. Ambitious young professionals called to serve the community sometimes have to wait for many years for a career breakthrough. In truth, Abraham’s faith journey mirrors many of ours. But like Abraham, we are impatient. We like to take shortcuts and we suffer the consequences. Because of his lack of patience and trust, Abraham laid with the slave girl Hagar who bore him a son Ishmael. The conception of Ishmael brought great challenges. (But this a reflection for another time.)
After the birth of Isaac, in the First Reading this week, we hear how God nurtured Abraham’s faith through a stern test. God demanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. This request must have been both shocking and confusing for Abraham. After being promised descendants as numerous of the stars in heaven; after waiting for ten long years, a child was finally born to Abraham. Then God asked Abraham to sacrifice the child! Abraham did not complain. He did not protest. Unlike the previous occasions, Abraham responded in obedience and trust. Nevertheless, Isaac is Abraham’s beloved son. Imagine the heavy heart Abraham would be carrying, as he went about the preparation work to sacrifice his son! In truth, God who is all knowing, knew Abraham’s heart. God knew that Abraham was by then a man of great faith, that he would not withhold anything from God, not even his beloved son. In fact, this stern test was not for God to know Abraham’s heart; it was for Abraham to know his own heart. God wanted Abraham to know how far his faith has grown. And what an agonising process it was for Abraham. Such is the mystery of our faith!
But God is never outdone in generosity. Where Abraham doubted God, God blessed him with a child. Where Abraham trusted God, God rewarded him with offspring “as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore” (verse 17). The Second Reading draws a parallel between the fatherly sacrifice of Abraham and God the Father: “He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us” (verse 32) Just as Abraham did not hold back his son Isaac out of his love for God, God did not hold back His Son out of His love for humankind. As St Augustine reflected, God spared Abraham’s son, but for sake of humanity, did not spare His own Son. Whereas God providing a ram to save Issacs; He did not hold back His own Son; but providing Jesus as a Lamb to save all of humankind. While we empathise with Abraham for having to make the difficult choice of sacrificing his son, let me marvel at the faithful love of God for us for sacrificing His own Son. God is never outdone in generosity.
This week’s Gospel story of the Transfiguration is another example of how God blesses us in mysterious ways. The Transfiguration is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels of Matthew (17:1-8), Mark (9:2-8) and Luke (9:28-36); and is always read on the second week of Lent. The Transfiguration occurred at a time when Jesus was about to face his gruesome death. It is in this context that God sent Moses and Elijah to strengthen him. Like Abraham in the First Reading, at the Transfiguration, God the Father was making preparation to sacrifice His Son. In the midst of the great mystery of the Transfiguration, we were told that Peter in his ignorance (Luke 9:33, Mk 9:6) proposed to build three tents for Jesus, Moses and Elijah respectively. Peter was ignorant. Firstly, to build three tents would be putting Jesus on par with Moses and Elijah. Secondly, while the Transfiguration is an awe-inspiring event, Jesus, Peter, James and John were never meant to remain on the mountain. Jesus has to come down from the mountain to face his sufferings so as to reconcile man to God. Peter too needs to come down from the mountain to face the tests God prepared for him, so that he may grow into the great leader God was grooming him to be.
My brothers and sisters, let us conclude with a self-reflection. Faith is a mystery that God progressively unveils to us. As I move closer to Good Friday on my Lenten walk, let me recognise that Jesus is laying a path for me to follow, for me to carry my crosses and follow Him (Lk 9:23), in fidelity, in patience and in trust. There is no resurrection without death; and no glorification without suffering. “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (Jn 12:24) Dear friends, this is our faith.