Spirituality of the Readings
An Offer You Can Refuse
Such a great offer, God’s covenant with human beings. It will fit into just eleven words:
I will be your God and you will be my people.
In return for God’s great love would we promise to love God above all things.
Our first parents had this relationship with God in the Garden of Eden. However, God watched with anguish as their free will, the gift he had given them, suddenly rejected his love.
God toiled to re-establish the covenant throughout history, as our First Reading shows. Fortunately, after many refusals on our part, God singled out a paltry old nomadic man named Abram and made to him what seems like an impossible promise:
Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so, he added, shall your descendants be.
Abram put his faith in the Lord.
God credited it to him as an act of righteousness.*
God was crediting Abram with having fulfilled the covenant! This meant
receiving the offered love (“I will be your God”)
putting his faith in the Lord (“you will be my people”).
In Sunday’s story, an ancient sacrificial cult was about to take place. As the sun was about to set, Abram fell into a trance, and a deep terrifying darkness enveloped him. Fire appeared among the animals that he had slain. God spoke, promising a homeland, the “promised land,” to Abram and his descendants.
This symbolized God’s half of the covenant.
The other half was up to Abram and his wife Sara. It was more complicated. Finally, in their extreme old age Abraham and Sara did have a son (Genesis 18:10ff), and the son’s descendants kept the covenant—at times—but often did not. As time went by the covenant was ignored and forgotten.
Much later, when the time was right, God thought up a brilliant solution, so to speak. Instead of speaking from on high or through representatives, God himself would take shape on earth as one of the people. The second person of the trinity would become the Messiah, the Christ.
This Christ was to be the very love God had offered for so many centuries. And get this: he was also, at the same time, the people’s loving response, since he was completely a human being! Think of it: as the God-man, Jesus was able to fulfill both halves of the covenant.
The transfiguration in Sunday’s Gospel represents both the promise and its fulfillment! Jesus’ clothes become dazzling as fire—a counterpart to the fire in the First Reading! A terrifying darkness closes in, just as it had with Abram. And within that darkness, God’s voice repeats the covenant words:
This is my chosen Son; listen to him.
In the cross and resurrection, the covenant would finally be fulfilled—on both sides, the Godly and the human. The result: you and I do not have to offer more and more sacrifices in order to achieve this fulfillment. We only have to let ourselves be joined to Jesus in his loving response to the Father.
How do we do this?
We begin it in Baptism. We continue it in each Mass, each communion we receive. We say “amen” to the covenant, so many times broken, but now established forever as the “new and everlasting covenant” of love, the cross and resurrection, received in the Eucharist.
Welcome to Lent!
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University