Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday of Lent – Year B – 25 February 2018
In the ancient pagan religions of the world, the gods are constantly at war with each other. The world teaches us that this is the only way to gain true power, to take it from others. However, Christ teaches us that the greatest glory is to be found not in conquering others, but in sacrificial love.
Our first reading is the famous account of the binding of Isaac. Abraham has waited decades for God to fulfill His promise to send Him descendants, and that promise is going to be fulfilled through Isaac. But then, God tells Abraham to take Isaac and bring Him to a place that He will show him, and offer him as a sacrifice. Many people find this to be a deeply disturbing story, and it may cause them to question everything they thought they knew about God. But what is really happening here. In paintings of this event, Isaac is always depicted as a fairly young boy, about 8 or 10, but in the story Isaac is the one who carries the wood for the sacrifice up the mountain, while Abraham only carries the knife and fire, because the wood is the heavier burden. Isaac isn’t a young boy, but a young man, while Abraham is over 100 years old. There is no way that Abraham could force Isaac to do anything. He does not resist. Who else went to His death, silently, “as a lamb to the slaughter,” when He could have stopped it at any time? Jesus.
Then, on the way up the mountain, Isaac asks where the lamb for the offering is, and Abraham says, “God Himself will provide the lamb.” But the animal that is found is not a lamb, but a ram. What is it that Jesus is called over and over again? “Lamb of God.”
Finally, When God stops Abraham, he says to him, “I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” And what does the Father say on Mt. Tabor, at the time of the Transfiguration? “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” And in the second reading, “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?”
The Binding of Isaac is meant to foreshadow the sacrifice of Christ. Isaac is called Abraham’s “only beloved Son,” and Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. Isaac goes to His death willingly out of reverence for His father, and Jesus goes to His death willingly out of love for His father and love for us. Jesus Christ is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
On Mt. Tabor, when Jesus is transfigured before Peter, James, and John, He reveals His glory to strengthen their faith. However, after He is betrayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, He says, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once.” God’s glory is truly revealed, not just on Mt. Tabor, but on Mt. Calvary, on the Cross. The glory of God is that He is willing to give His very life to save us, and He calls us to do the same.
We naturally desire glory, but we usually look for it in the wrong places. Jesus Christ found glory in humbling Himself. He humbled Himself by becoming human, becoming one of us. He humbled Himself by living in obedience to Mary and Joseph, even though He’s God. He humbled Himself by going before King Herod and Pontius Pilate, even though their power is nothing next to His. Finally, He humbled Himself on the Cross.
Humility isn’t the greatest virtue, that’s love, but it is the foundation of all virtues. We need humility in order to have any of the other virtues. First, we have to realize that everything we have and are comes from God. Our lives, our existence, and every blessing that we have comes from God. Yes, we worked for the things we have, but we wouldn’t have any of it if not for God. We also need to realize how much we need God. We have an absolute need for God. We need God in order to grow in holiness and virtue and become the best people we can be.
Pray for an increase in the virtue of humility, especially during this Mass. As you come forward to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, ask God help you grow in humility, and be prepared for Him to give you an opportunity to be humbled.
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.