As the first reading last week laid out sin and its ramifications with a dramatic demonstration of the creation of man formed out of the clay of the ground, cuddled like a newborn in the exotic- worry- free life of the garden of Eden all expenses paid bringing heaven on earth, only to be tempted by the cunning serpent and succumbed, yielded shame, brought death and eventually, banished from paradise.
The Book of Genesis is divided into two major parts. Chapters 1-11 treats the history of the origins of humanity while chapters 12-50, the history of the patriarchs-the forefathers-the ones who introduced us to faith. The beginning of chapter 12 of Genesis presents the call of Abram as one of the best known themes in the Old Testament often described as a pivotal stage in salvation history that lays down a new and fresh start in the unfolding of God’s redemption. It provides an important contrast, call it panacea, an intimate connection with the happy fault brought to us by Adam and Eve after having thrown out of the lush garden of Eden.
En aquellos días, dijo el Señor a Abram: “Deja tu país, a tu parentela y la casa de tu padre, para ir la tierra que yo te mostraré. Haré nacer de ti un gran pueblo y te bendeciré. Engrandeceré tu nombre y tú mismo serás una bendición. Bendeciré a los que te bendigan, maldeciré a los que te maldigan. En ti serán bendecidos todos los pueblos de la tierra”. Abram partió como se lo había ordenado el Señor (Génesis 12, 1-4).
God initiated the move. He spoke to a fallen and condemned humanity through Abram, an heir of Adam, a descendant of Noah and a son of Terah, a Shemite, and asked him to leave the land of his kinsfolk and go to the land that God will show him. He was 75 years old by the time he received the news. Many of us would probably freak out upon hearing it. Not me, ask someone else. I’m too old. I’ve done my job raising a family and let me enjoy the remaining years of my life and do what I want while I’m healthy. By then, he was retired and settled in a retirement community in Tucson. Perhaps, his day started with a morning coffee and spent the rest playing golf or sit around waiting for the roll call from heaven. It was an unsettling news, an arresting fact. There was no adequate explanation behind all this and yet the written word can attest as the case may be that he was called not because of who he was. St. Paul nailed it in the second reading, “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began…” (2 Tim 1:9). It was simply God’s choice. We can imagine the trouble, the pressure, the suffering he went through the cumbersome process of discernment, carefully weighed options as if it were a matter of life and death, to go or not to go was the problem, up to the time he arrived at a decision that rapidly changed the course of his life for better and forever, “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God” (2 Tim. 1:8b). Though we have yet to receive an answer why Abram and not someone gifted and deserving enough to lead a holy life, doing so would be a foolish thing to do. Crazy how it goes. For the time being, me dío la cuenta, now I understand why Revelation and Faith was the first course offered in Theology.
Abram went as the Lord had directed him without a google map, no GPS, not even a traveler’s guide, that would equip him on the road to the Land of Canaan believing the promises made would take place in the present life. Armed with nothing but an unconditional faith in God’s promises, placing his life solely in his hands, relying completely in his providence, leaving everything behind to God on the account of his earth- shattering, shocking invitation, he left Haran, Mesopotamia, the land where his father Terah (Gen. 11:27-32) migrated from Ur of the Chaldeans and settled there with his family along with Abram. Leaving your homeland, the stuff of life in the ancients was like losing one’s identity, the sense of comfort and added security. It was irresistible, though. No doubt he was consumed with anxiety. It came to him like a razor’s edge, cutting his life in half. It actually did. But he held on to God’s word handed down in a lovely display of repetitions: I will show you a land…I will make you a great nation…I will bless you. His decision to accept God’s invitation left us with lots to ponder, fueled by something hard to explain. For a lack of better term, let’s fairly call it faith…
As a hall of Famer in the sacred writings, we have given Abram, the nickname “Father in Faith” for his exemplary obedience allowing God to break in, to intervene in his personal affairs even at a later stage in life. Faith is God’s work in the world, not ours. It is not the result of our individual and collective efforts, however tremendous and tireless. Because of humankind’s phenomenal achievements and granted all the success, the biggest mistake ministers of God, myself included, commit is putting themselves at the center of it all as if there’s no invisible reality running the show: mission, ministry, faith to anything they do and push God on the sidelines, reduce his role merely as a paramedic, needed in case of emergency, and has no real part in the religious enterprise, in the make up of God’s kingdom.
On the second sunday of lent, the Gospel always takes us up high on the mountaintop along with the three apostles Peter, James and John his brother (the inner circle, the magnificent three) for a lenten retreat to catch a glimpse of the all-inspiring, transforming, astonishing ‘aha’ goose bumps moment and at the same time, scary (“When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid” Mt. 17: ) event of the transfiguration of Jesus appearing in dazzling glory bearing witness to his name leading us to believe in him as the Messiah letting us know that in spite of the impending passion, we’re asked to stay calm and remain faithful, he got it, all will come to pass “then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Mt. 17:5).
Lent is a special time for parishes to organize retreats, penance services, stone soup, fish fry, offer opportunities for spiritual enrichment and religious engagement, encounter God more intimately in a transforming way led by the Gospel saying: “This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. Listen to him” (Mt. 17:5). Go, just go, God said, from your former way of life, be transfigured and listen closely to him for through him I will show you the way, make you my people and bless you with many more blessings. Amen.