Each year during Lent we look ahead to what lies at the end of the 40 days. Easter stands as the destination or the culmination of the Lenten journey. On the way there Lent reminds us that in this life, where we sometimes stumble and wander, our ultimate destination is the glory of the Resurrection.
However, in an indirect way today’s scripture reminds us that in order to experience the Resurrection, we must first experience Good Friday. It’s not so much that we are guilty of overlooking Good Friday either. The opposite is true. The suffering of Jesus is not something that escapes our attention during Lent.
I know—without a doubt—that each Lent, year after year, we look at the events of the Passion from the perspective of Christ’s sufferings. However, what today’s scripture does is allow us to look at the passion of Jesus from the viewpoint of a parent.
We have a peculiar story from the first reading today that most of us recognize when we hear, but we may have not spent much time considering what it might mean to us. God tells Abraham to take his beloved son and offering him up as a sacrifice. In the story we learn that God didn’t intend for Abraham to kill his son but was a test of Abraham’s faith or commitment to the Lord. It’s hard for a parent to imagine himself or herself in the shoes of Abraham; however, the deeper importance of the story isn’t so much about Abraham’s test of faith as it a prefiguring of God the Father’s sacrifice of his only Son.
In the gospel we have the wonderful story of the Transfiguration of Lord on the mountain. Again, it might be easy to lose sight of the import of the story. It is one that has the power to dazzle. It easily inspires the religious and artistic imagination, but overall one sentence stands out: “This is my beloved Son.”
Jesus and his faithful disciples journey to the mountaintop in the style of Abraham with Isaac and the voice of God pronounces, “This is my Son.” God shows the willingness that he asked of Abraham, only this time—in something that resembles a plot twist—he doesn’t so much test the faithfulness of those who had journeyed to the mountaintop as he shows his faithfulness toward humanity whom he loves so much that he was willing to offer up his only Son that we, also his children, might live.
I believe that God wants us to be imitators of his actions. In doing so we show our commitment and we learn faithfulness. Of course it isn’t that anyone is asked to give a child as an offering, but God does ask us to be true givers from the heart, an to give in such a way that it reflects a true sacrifice. During Lent we have an opportunity, though it exists year round, to ask what faith really consists of. Faith, on a deep level, is to do what God asks of us, and to do what God does. God asked Abraham to give in faith, and God gives faithfully. Likewise God asks us to be faithful givers.
Faith might mean different things to different people, but it always involves some kind of action or exchange whether we consider it to be “giving up something” in Lenten fashion, or the “giving of something.” For some it might mean giving up or offering something material. For others it might mean participating in some kind of spiritual activity. Whatever we choose to give—or to do—it better approximates the meaning of faith when the value of the thing given or done is great. We have to look at the world in which we live and ask what it needs most, and in order to give in true faith we may find that we are called upon to offer something not easy to give or to let go of. We may find that we need to give in the same way that a loving parent offers his or her whole life for the benefit of their beloved child.
Sometimes when we read in the news of the decline of faith in the world it may seem disappointing or discouraging. All that we really need is to remember what faith really is and how that might differ from commonly held ideas. Isn’t real faith the ability of the human heart to rise to the toughest occasions, to show courage, and to believe that every obstacle can be overcome? Isn’t faith that which believes that it can change the world by what we do and give?
Faith accomplishes much, but one thing it never does is to give up hope. Having faith means that we behave like a parent who refuses to give up hope for a child. When we feel the temptation to have doubt or be in despair we have to keep in mind that what’s needed most is the kind of faith that finds solutions in action, goes to any length, and believes that nothing is ever impossible. To act in faith we ask ourselves what we have that we may give, and then we offer it as if it were given to a child whom we cherish most.