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Auxiliary Bishop of the Archdiocese
of Detroit, Michigan *
Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, "Abraham!"
"Here I am!" he replied.
Then God said: "Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the LORD's messenger called to him from heaven, "Abraham, Abraham!"
"Here I am!" he answered.
"Do not lay your hand on the boy," said the messenger. "Do not do
the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God,
Again the LORD's messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said:
"I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly
Brothers and sisters: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones? It is God who
acquits us, who will condemn? Christ Jesus it is who died--or, rather,
was raised-- who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes
Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain
apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his
clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach
them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing
As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to
relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen
from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what
rising from the dead meant.
* A longtime national and international activist in the peace movement, Bishop Gumbleton is a founding member of Pax Christi USA and an outspoken critic of the sanctions against Iraq.
has appeared on numerous radio and television programs, and has published
numerous articles and reports.
* Scripture texts in this work are in modified form from the American Standard Version of the Bible and are available as part of the public domain.
For your convenience, the
Scripture texts, as they appear in the Lectionary for Mass for Use in the
Dioceses of the United States, second typical edition, Copyright ©
1998, 1997, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C.,
may be found at the website of the United States Conference of Catholic
** The Web link to Pax Christi is provided as a service to our readers.
weeks ago, a full-page ad appeared in The New York Times . It was
sponsored and paid for by religious leaders from across the country under
the leadership of the Methodist Bishops who are leaders of President Bush's
church. The text of the ad, the main part of it, the big print said:
"To President Bush: You have told us that Jesus changed your heart.
Now let Jesus change your mind!" And that is a very important exhortation
for the President but also for every one of us.
What God said about Jesus as we heard in the Gospel lesson today, "This is My Son, the beloved. Listen to him. Listen to him, the Son of God. Let what he says change your minds!”
It is put very plainly in one of Paul's letters to the Church at Philippi where he is exhorting those first Christians in that city: "Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus” Have the mind, the thinking, the attitude, the heart of Jesus. Let yourselves be changed according to the way of Jesus.
And in that passage, Paul goes on to say: " ...who, though he was God, did not think his divinity something to be clung to but emptied himself, became human, even became a slave among us and gave himself over to death even that ignominious death of the cross.”
What Paul is trying to get us to understand is that this is the heart of the message of Jesus. Later on, Paul says to the Church of Corinth, "Look, I wasn't sent to baptize but to proclaim the Good News, the message of Jesus Christ and so I have to preach Christ crucified” ... a Christ who gives up power, might, force, coercion, prestige, wealth -- all of it -- and only acts with love.
That was a difficult message to hear then and it is a difficult message to hear now. Then Paul said, "When I preach this to the Jews, it is a scandal, it is a stumbling block they can't get over. To the Greeks, it's madness. It doesn't make any sense.” But to those who believe, it is the way to God ... the way to life ... the fullness of life.
And we know, if we reflect on today's Gospel, (it is not recorded in Mark's description of the Transfiguration but it is in Matthew's Gospel), that when Jesus was there on the hillside with his disciples and God proclaimed this about him, "This is my Son, the beloved. Listen to him," Moses and Elijah were talking with Jesus (as it is put in Matthew's Gospel) about his passing, about what was going to happen to him. And Jesus himself had just spoken about this six days (as Mark said) before they went up on that hillside. Jesus was beginning to announce to them and in this experience of Jesus on that mountainside, the disciples were being told: “Here is the way of Jesus.”
This morning, together with other parishioners, I was making the Way of the Cross, as we do Sunday morning before Mass during Lent. I was thinking at each station, almost, the same message comes through: that Jesus responds always to hatred, to violence, to insult, to anything, he responds with love. It is the power that can transform our world. This is the heart of the message of Jesus. "Listen to him."
It may be very difficult – well I shouldn’t say “may be” – it is very difficult to take in this message, to live by it, to always respond to hate with love and to respond to violence with non-violence. It is a very hard lesson. What we need in order to enable us to listen to Jesus, to let our minds be formed according to his mind, our thinking according to his thinking, our ways according to his way, we need to go back to the first lesson to discover something very important about Abraham in that incident that was described there in the book of Genesis.
As I mentioned in introducing that passage, it is a very hard passage because when you first hear it, you might think, “What kind of a God is this that would ask a father to kill his own son! What kind of God is this?” Well, as I suggested in the introduction, what the passage ultimately is about, God is rejecting that sort of thing – God is rejecting the cruelty of child sacrifice.
Later, in the prophets, this becomes so very clear. In the teaching of the Hebrew tradition, one of the prophets, Micah, has an inquirer saying: "What shall I bring to God when I come to bow down to God, the most high? Shall I come with burnt offerings, with sacrifices of yearling calves? Will God be pleased with thousands of rams, with an overabundance of oil libations? Should I offer my first born for my sins, the fruit of my body for my wrongdoing?”
And the answer is clear: "No! You have been told what is good and what God requires of you: to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with the Lord, your God." What God asks is love. He rejects the cruelty of the sacrifice that is described in the first lesson.
But then there is another important part of this. What we really see demonstrated is the extraordinary trust and confidence in God that Abraham demonstrates, because God had made a promise to Abraham. This was the Covenant that we heard about a Sunday or two ago. God had promised Abraham that Abraham was to be the beginning. He together with Sarah would be the beginning of a whole new people and Isaac was the means by which this would happen.
Abraham had obviously first understood that Isaac was absolutely essential. And so Abraham would have had a terrible time trying to say: "How can God fulfill the promise if I destroy my son?”
But what Abraham was able to do was to understand that he did not have to trust in the promise. He needed to trust in the One who made the promise, who could somehow, (in spite of Abraham not being able to figure out how), make that promise come true that Abraham and Sarah would be the beginning of a new people even if it wasn't in the way Abraham thought it was going to be. Abraham trusted in God who made the promise, not in the promise itself.
And this is the kind of trust we have to have in God, because when we are confronted with the message of Jesus and it seems so impossible almost, and we can't understand how it could happen, we have to take God's word. Trust in the God who reveals this to us in Jesus and clearly, Jesus is the revelation of God. That is another point that is made in the Gospel lesson today.
Moses who represents the Law of the Old Testament; Elijah who represents all the prophets of the Old Testament. They move away, and Jesus is left so that all that God had revealed before is now revealed in its fullness in Jesus. We have to trust in this Jesus who is the full revelation of God.
It is hard to develop that kind of trust and so we must pray for it. But I also suggest that if we look to others for example, it shows us that it is possible that, with God's help, people do come to the point where they can totally trust in God's promise -- that love is the power that can transform our world -- to totally trust in that.
Paul did. That's why he says, "If God is for us, who can be against us?" If God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who is given to us, who can take that away? Who can separate us from the love of God given to us in Jesus? No one!
Paul had that profound, constant, strong love or trust in God. But also, because of the mountaintop episode in today’s Gospel, I thought of Dr. King on the night before he was shot to death. He had struggled with great fear about dying -- about being killed. He struggled with having confidence in God, in trusting that God's promises would be fulfilled as he kept on trying to respond to hate with love, to accept suffering rather than inflict it, to be killed rather than to kill. Dr. King struggled to trust and to believe.
But then, the night before he died, he made this very powerful and, I find, consoling and strengthening proclamation. He said: "We've got some difficult days ahead but it doesn't matter with me now because I have been to the mountaintop and I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place but I am not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will and God has allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I am happy tonight. I am not worried about anything. I am not fearing anyone. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the Coming of the Lord.”
Dr. King had gone to the mountaintop just like those disciples did. We, too, can go to that mountaintop in our prayer -- to be with Jesus as God proclaims who he is, "My son the Beloved.” And, we can experience his presence and then we will have confidence in the God who makes the promise that the Way of Jesus will bring peace to our world.
I hope when we leave this church today we will leave with the determination to do as God commands: "Listen to Him.” Listen to Jesus.
In the name of the Father,
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
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