Dying to Live

February 28, 2021 The Second Sunday of Lent (Cycle B)

The tie in between today’s readings: God is for Us.

Psalm 116:10-19, Genesis 22:1-2;9-18, Romans 8:31-34, Mark 9:2-10

Dying embers were Abraham’s only companions as he sat consumed with the dilemma that the Lord his God had placed on him. Jehovah’s command was clear and certain: “Take now your son, your only son, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I will tell you” (Genesis 22:1-20). It was a pitiless order, more bitter than the wind, howling out of darkness. Must it be obeyed? What would be the consequences? Could he even do such an unthinkable thing? Trapped in a cyclone of fear and bewilderment, having nowhere else to go, he turned to the source of his problem for the solution and found Him in the eye of the storm.

“You were with me when I left my home in Ur of the Chaldees,” he prayed, “You protected us as we lived in the land of Canaan and enriched us after our sojourn in Egypt. You guarded us when we rescued my nephew, Lot. You gave me victory over the kings and followed it up with the blessings of Melchizedek. You truly have been my shield and very great reward. Most of all, you promised me an heir and descendants, like the sand and the stars, too numerous to count. I would have been happy to have it fulfilled in Ismael, but You…You had Your purpose in Isaac, our miracle baby. Now, YOU want to take him away from his mother and me and by my hand, no less. Who are You? The God that I have been faithful to would never go back on His promises. But You have put me in this impossible situation. You have tasked me with a slaughter too severe for Sara and me to recover from. I have already offered myself to You in his place, but you rejected that. It has to be my beloved son, or You are not satisfied. Do not make me kill the boy. Taking him will be more than I can bear and all that You and I have between us may be lost forever. I just don’t understand it. There is no promise, no future, no glory with a dead Isaac…unless…of course…now I see. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Prepare Your servant now, I pray, O God. Tomorrow will be a day like no other.”

So, as our reading in Genesis 22:9-18 tells us, Abraham led Isaac to the place that God had selected. He laid his boy down on an alter and raised the knife to sacrifice him. But, at the last moment, the Lord stayed his hand, much to the relief of father and son. Close by, there was a ram caught in a tangle of thorns. It became the sacrifice. God was well pleased with Abraham’s obedience and greatly blessed the Patriarch. He triumphed in his test because he believed in the resurrection (see Hebrews 11:19). He named the place “The Lord Will Provide”. His faith in that provision remained as a constant source of hope and joy for the rest of his life.

John 8:56-58:

56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it and was glad.

57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?

58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

Obviously, there is more to Jesus than meets the eye. Case in point: today’s reading in Mark 9:2-10, The Mount of Transfiguration. In this account, Peter, James, and John are blown away by the revealed glory of their Christ. Moses and Elijah appear alongside to discuss Jesus’s mission of redemption, in which they all had a stake. God the Father commands the disciples to listen to His Son which shuts up a babbling Peter. It ended as suddenly as it started. Going back down, Jesus tells them to keep it all quiet until “the Son of Man raises from the dead”. Clueless, they grapple with the concept of what raising from the dead means. You wonder if Jesus had been trying to get a firmer handle on it all too. Otherwise, why the trip up the mountain in the first place?

Like Abraham, Jesus must have gotten His answer because, on the night He was betrayed, He instituted the Eucharist. My body…My blood…given for you. Before leaving the upper room, they sang a hymn, most likely Psalm 116, today’s reading. Our reading starts in verse 10 as an outpouring of praise and thanksgiving for deliverance.  To do this Messianic Psalm justice, though, we need to read the entire piece. There we see Jesus in the land of the Dead. It is clear that God the Son went to the cross because He too had faith in the resurrection. That’s important, because the Bible in various translations, the KJV and Douay-Rheims for example, will tie our salvation to the faith of Christ as well as our faith in Christ (see Romans 3:22, Galatians 2:16 and 3:22, Philippians 3:9). The faith of the “no greater love” that caused Him to lay down His life for us. He asks the same in return from you. It doesn’t matter what you believe about Jesus; not until you have the faith of Jesus. The all in, nowhere else to go faith that makes you struggle up Calvary’s hill with Him as if it was your own crucifixion. In the spiritual dimension, His death becomes your death. His burial is your burial. His resurrection is your resurrection. The promises of forgiven sins and heaven are yours. But wait, there’s more.

Today’s reading in Romans 8 reveals the new relationship between yourself and the Lord in this resurrection life that you have. The passage tells us that God has given us all things in Christ. That doesn’t mean He gives you everything you want. He’s not your genie. It means He gives everything you need to become like Jesus. That’s the goal: to become like Him. It’s our part in the dynamic of “no greater love”. It’s the high and difficult call to a holy life. On our way we will fall and fail, but Jesus intercedes for us with the Father so that we can continue on. Hebrews 12:1-2 encourages us in this quest:

“Therefore, since we also have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking only at Jesus, the [a]originator and perfecter of the faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

You are His joy! Let Him be yours!

In our reading in Romans 8:31-34, we see the resurrection as the answer to the question, “If God be for us who can be against us?” The resurrection is the solution to mankind’s impossible situation of sin and subsequent condemnation forever in hell. The Lord loved us so much that He did not only spare His beloved Son, but provided Him as the means to redeem us back to Himself.  There was no other way. Jesus died as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  The resurrection proves that He was successful in His sacrifice. The resurrection was the key to Abraham’s faith at Mt. Moriah. It was the key question at the Mount of Transfiguration. For us, it’s the key that unlocks us from our prison of sin and set us free to eternal life. It is the resurrection that unites you with God and us with each other. It is the resurrection that brings heaven to earth and to make it all real you just have to die. So, the question is, will you climb Mt. Calvary? He is waiting for you with open arms to join Him there by faith. Die to yourself. Die to your sin. Realize the power of the resurrection through your faith in Christ and the faith of Christ for a life worth living…now and forever.

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