Saturday, March 11, 2006

Total Commitment (Sunday Homily)

That first reading is odd.
The Bible always condemned child-sacrifice.
So how do we explain that first reading?

As Paul Harvey says, let me tell you
the rest of the story…

This passage is the climax of a long journey
for Abraham—a journey to total commitment.

Recall that Abraham and his wife, Sarah,
tried to have children, but could not.
Yet in their old age,
God promises they would have descendants
like the stars of the sky.

Abraham struggles with this promise.
He thinks about
making one of his servants his heir;
God says, "No, you’re not getting it!"
Abraham goes
and has a child with another woman;
God says, "No, you’re still not getting it!"

Even after Abraham and Sarah
receive the promised child—Isaac—
Abraham still struggles with…
total commitment.

That’s what brings us to today’s reading.
Up to this point, Abraham has failed the test.

The point of this episode is simply this:
Abraham needs, at last, to pass the test!

Note that: not, "God needed"—
God needs nothing—
but rather, Abraham needed this test,
and God went along with it,
for Abraham’s sake,
finally stopping him before he harmed the boy.

The test was Abraham’s need to make…
total commitment.

There are two, key, lines
left out of this reading:
When Abraham goes up the mountain,
he tells his servants,
stay here; the boy and I will go worship,
and then come back to you.

As they go up the mountain,
Isaac asks his father,
"Here are the fire and the wood,
but where is the sheep" for the sacrifice?
Abraham responds,
"God himself will provide the sheep."

This shows just how ready
Abraham finally was.
Abraham goes up the mountain
prepared to sacrifice his son.

Total commitment.
And yet, somehow, he knows
his boy will come back alive;
Somehow, he knows, "God will provide."

Abraham only knew a little,
and he filled in the gaps with trust.
That’s what we call faith!

Faith is easy when the bills are paid,
and everyone is safe at home.

But when the bills aren’t paid—
when people you love are in trouble?
That’s when faith is hard!
That’s what Abraham was going through
as he walked up that mountain.
That’s total commitment!

Now, let’s take this to a deeper level.

Think about something we often do:
We demand a test—from God:
we demand God prove himself to us!

Isn’t that an outrageous thing for us,
his creation, to demand from our Creator?

Now, notice how God responds
to this outrageous demand.
He doesn’t come down and destroy us!
Instead, God comes down
and becomes one of us.

And in Jesus Christ,
who is God, become man,
God presents himself to the human race,
and says: "Here I am—I’m ready!"

God didn’t need a test—we did!
God didn’t need a sacrifice—we did!
"Prove yourself!" we said to God;
And God comes and says,
"Here I am—I’m ready!"

To prove himself to God,
Abraham offered his beloved son;
God refused.

To prove Himself to us,
God offered himself!
Humanity took God up the mountain,
and laid Him on the wood of the Cross;
and God said, I’m ready!

Many of us experience
our Christian Faith being attacked.
We might not know how
to answer the question,
"What’s so special about Jesus,
and Christianity?"

This is what’s so special.
This is the Good News of the Gospel.

Every religion tells us about a God—
out there;
But only in Jesus
does God come to us, here.

Every religion talks about
making sacrifices to God;
Pagan religions said,
sacrifice your children;
Judaism said, sacrifice goats and rams;
Islam says, sacrifice yourself.

Only Christ shows us God, saying to man,
"I don’t want you to die:
instead, sacrifice Me!"
Who is Jesus Christ?
And what is the Cross about?
This is God’s total commitment to us!
This is our Faith!

This is what we journey to discover,
during Lent.
Our little sacrifices of Lent
aren’t about us proving anything to God;
rather, they help us discover the depths
of God’s Great Sacrifice—
the Cross—that saved us!

And the power of the Cross
is the power of the Eucharist;
the "then" is real for us now.

The more we discover that,
the more we want to change,
to turn from sin,
to deepen our lives in the Spirit.

The awesome reality of the Eucharist—
Total Commitment—on the Cross—
Now in his Body and Blood given for us—
This should blow us away!

So we never take the Eucharist casually.
Clean hands, clean heart,
clean lips; clean lives;
All for Him.
The Eucharist is Jesus,
God’s total commitment to us;
This demands our total commitment to Him:

So, we fast for a full hour before—
is He worth that?
We go to confession; we examine our lives.
This is why we must be in full union
with the whole Body of Christ,
the Catholic Church,
in order to receive the Body of Christ,
the Eucharist.

Folks wonder:
why can’t anyone come to communion?
Because it’s about total commitment.

When we realize who Jesus is, what he did?
The Cross? The Mass? The Eucharist?
The words God spoke to Abraham,
become our words to God:
"Now I know how much you love me—
you did not withhold your own beloved Son."


Anonymous said...

Holy Cow - it's awesome!! This is one of my favorite OT passages - although always hard because I know I don't measure up to that kind of faith (particularly once I had a child...)

You have put it in perspective so well - and yes, isn't the Eucharist a most marvalous gift - the infinite coming to us through the finite.

One only needs to read your homilies to know that you put a lot of time and work into them - in addition to being a very orthodox priest.

Thank you for saying yes to Christ's call.

Mark Anthony said...

Commitment is a great way to focus on the Abraham story. I particularly liked that you emphasized that the "sacrifice" of Isaac was for Abraham's sake, not for God. Sometimes the most obstinate of us don't get the message until the knife is just about to drop.

Of course, one could surmise that the whole experience explains why Isaac turned out to be such a dud as a father to his own sons.

Also, when you say that Islam says to "sacrifice yourself", I assume you are talking about Islam as Submission, and not suicide bombers...

Fr Martin Fox said...


Yes, I think this event was certainly a trauma for Isaac.

As to Islam. Yes, I was trying to express, with economy of expression, how Islam seems to have humanity grovel before God in a way that the God of Abraham, as revealed ultimately in Christ, does not.

Because, of course, Christianity calls for self-sacrifice, too.

As to suicide bombers; no, I do not mean to suggest that arises out of the essence of Islam. But it is fair to ask whether anything about Islamic notions of God, and humanity, leaves the door open for such behavior, in a way Biblical revelation does not. It's a fair question, to which I don't know the answer (which may be "No").