Aqēḏāh | Love God First = Loving Others Properly

2nd Sunday of Lent

Cycle B/2021

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. 

Giving Up Candy or Going To War?

1st Sunday of Lent

Cycle B/2021

Genesis 9:8-15; Psalms 25:4-5, 6-7, 8-9; First Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15

         We have now entered into the season of Lent. I suspect that Catholics have a very wide understanding and practice of this holy season. THE way that each of us should be prepared for and journey through the season of Lent is not based on me or you but on the Sacred Scripture – on the life of Jesus himself.  

So, let us journey with Jesus through the season of Lent that we began last Wednesday. It is in the Scripture that we will find what Lent is all about – (the way I put it is, is it just about) – giving up candy or going to war! 

         The Gospel of the day teaches us that after his baptism the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert for a total of forty day where he would be tempted by Satan. In this very dense description we uncover what Lent is all about. It is linked with our baptism that calls us to mission; our baptism is a call from God to “go forth” and tell the story of what Jesus has done and what specifically he has done for me and you.

         In these two verses from today’s Gospel, we hear what Jesus did: Jesus was baptized. Why? So that you and I could be baptized. Why? So that you and I could be saved by God’s gift of grace, by his power. We were lost and incapable to finding our way back to God. God had to become one of us and show us how to get back home to the Father. This means being in relationship with God and able to go to heaven.  This – in a nutshell – is why Jesus is baptized.  

Where though does the power of baptism come from? The power of this sacrament will come from the cross — the cross upon which Jesus will die and offer himself on our behalf to the Father so that we can be saved and go to heaven. 

         Before Jesus goes to the cross though he will show us how – even after baptism – we will need to not only open ourselves to his power by baptism but also follow his teaching and example as he will allow himself to be tempted by Satan. Jesus shows us that Satan can be defeated – this powerful angel that many people even deny exists does exist and could crush us if Jesus did not do what he is here to do … die on the cross and make the sacraments available to us so that we can defeat our enemy and go to heaven. 

         So, St Mark includes the interesting details that are very important. He says that: “…and he was with the wild beasts; and the Angels waited on him.” Why does St Mark include this detail other than the fact that it is true?  

St Mark is teaching us – as we begin this season of Lent – that Jesus is going to defeat Satan unlike Adam, the father of the human race, who failed when he was tempted. There was a Rabbinic tradition that Adam was fed by the Angels and he was also at one with the wild beasts. This is what is referred to as a preternatural gift. This was lost with the original sin. Jesus is the new Adam who is here to begin a new people of God.

         Jesus is here not just as a teacher and preacher (though he is both of these) but Jesus is here as the new Adam to battle Satan and overcome all of Satan’s temptations. In other words, Jesus is here for war! Jesus is here to defeat our foe, the one who wants to destroy us, make us miserable in this life, tear us apart from God and each other and finally damn us for all eternity. 

         Lent is the way that we learn not only from Jesus’s preaching and teaching, but we learn how to defeat temptation by Jesus’s power – his grace – made available to us in the sacraments. 

         To learn from Jesus, we need to hear him teaching about fasting, prayer and almsgiving. These are the three ways that we open ourselves to his power and defeat our enemies – the devil, the flesh, and the world. That you and I do penance should not be in question.  

If you question your need to do penance, then you ignore God who said “unless you do penance you will perish” (which means go to hell). 

It is not just a little important, it is extremely important but for reasons of love not a “fear of terror.” We can be so into ourselves that we need a good kick in the behinds, something to wake us out of the stupor or the daze we are in.  

We succumb to bad habits, mediocrity, we begin to make excuses for not doing penance – for not praying, for not giving alms to the needy, for not fasting. Ask yourself this question: when was the last time I want to confession? And if you hear yourself saying “I don’t have any mortal sins” (this is good!) but you need to do some serious reflection on the life of grace, the damage venial sins can and do cause, the damage that our own undealt with character faults can cause.

         Look at Jesus in the desert – forty days and forty nights. He does not need to do this for himself. He is doing this for you and for me. He is winning for us the gift of Baptism, Eucharist, Confirmation and Penance and the other sacraments. Jesus is showing us how to defeat temptation and the devil. It is not so much in giving up candy (although that can have a beneficial effect if done properly/for the right reasons) but by engaging in war with the enemy. Our weapons are not bought in a store but are rather: prayer, fast and almsgiving. 

         I will conclude with this great teaching of St Leo the Great: In prayer faith remains steadfast. In fastings life remains innocent. In almsgiving the mind remains kind.

         Learn from Jesus, get your program of penance now, today, and include confession in that plan. How important is getting this going “today” – consider if St Joseph put off leaving for Egypt until the next morning or another day – if Jesus wouldn’t have been murdered by Herod’s soldiers! But he didn’t wait – he got up and left. So do not put this off – today, now is the time. God bless you!