2nd Sunday of Lent
Genesis 22:1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18; Psalms 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19; Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10
Aqēḏāh | Love God First = Loving Others Properly
Have you ever had someone grab you by the shoulders – either physically or verbally – in order to get your attention – and give you a good shake? If this hasn’t happened to you then perhaps the modern equivalent has happened to you where someone has said (again trying to make a strong point or get your attention): “come on!”
“will you just listen!” or “Really!”
Whatever the modern version of this is, the point is someone doing what they think will be effective to give us a jolt, wake us out of a stupor or out of complacency (get your attention). They want to make a serious point. This is what happens in today’s first Reading! This episode involving God, Abraham and Isaac is known as the Aqēḏāh (the binding of Isaac). It seems so harsh, so cruel. Is this the way God is? Although it may be hidden from us at first what we are going to see here is a lesson that is absolutely critical for us in order to be happy now and make it to heaven: God must be First and only when this happens can we truly love each other the way we are supposed to and get to heaven!
We can only truly understand the Father’s love here if we go all the way back to Genesis and recount the mess that was made of this world and ourselves when Adam chose himself over God. In his pride he chose himself first, along with this wife over God. If anyone thinks that Adam’s choice was or is understandable then you are thinking in a completely worldly and backwards way. All you have to do is look around and see if the world is normal, is ordered, is healthy. People ask why is the world this way? Ultimately it is because we chose and we all too often continue to choose self over God and in doing so we cannot choose what is truly good for others. This is what is at heart of the Aqēḏāh.
Although our condition today is not all that great (and I am talking on a societal scale here) we have real live examples that show us it is possible to live happy lives now and reach eternal life. Abraham shows us that it is possible and that is the reason this incident is so important. Abraham seems to be the first person that God could really and truly rely on to chose Him over anyone or anything else. But like all of us he had to be put to the test.
In today’s first Reading God says to Abraham – the son you so long waited for, the son whom I gave to you in your old, very old age, the son you love so much … now give him back to me. Abraham showed God that he did love his son but he did not adore his son – he adored God and believed that his ultimate happiness lay not in Isaac but in God. He showed that he believed God could and would raise his son from the dead. Abraham – in his heart – offered Isaac in a total way. In doing so Abraham showed it was possible for a human being to do what was right and just in God’s sight! This moment was so foundational that it has its own name: The Aqēḏāh. At this moment Abraham became the father of nations and our spiritual father of faith in God.
Many thousands of years later Jesus would teach this same basic truth: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Mt 6:21 It is worded differently but the same foundational point is made: We must choose God first otherwise our hearts become wrapped around creatures and we fall into disintegration.
In later centuries St Augustine would put it this way: love God first and then everything and everybody else for the sake of God. This is the right ordering of love.
The Liturgy teaches us this every Sunday (except during Advent and Lent) “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to people of good will.” God first and then we can be happy with each other.
To get this right is to live a rightly ordered life. To live it wrong is to fall into sin and disintegration. God is often displaced by money, by one’s job, one’s spouse, one’s children, my prestige, my sensual pleasure and the list goes on. We have to choose – there is no choice in that fact – we must, we will, choose every day: what is our primary love – God or self? If we choose self we will continue the sin pattern that makes our world and our lives a mess! If we choose God then we begin to reorder the world right here – in our own heart and then in the way we truly treat and love others around us.
If you treat your spouse or your children or your friend or your people (so we are all in this together) as if they are supposed to make your life as happy as only God can make it, then you (and I) are setting ourselves up for disintegration, disappointment, unhappiness and failure.
The Aqēḏāh may seem harsh or cruel but God knows what he is doing – Abraham is going to have a HUGE role to play in history so he must know if his heart is God’s first or human beings.
The entire lesson of the Aqēḏāh is summed up in the Father’s words to Peter, James and John spoken on Mount Tabor: This is my beloved Son; listen to him!
Will God be first in our lives so that we can have a better and happier life? Or will be continue choosing ourselves and each other and spinning our wheels. The decision is yours and mine! There is no better time that this holy season of Lent to have a change of mind (a metanoia) to the Lord first so that we might love each other and be happier than we could ever imagine.