Monday, October 26, 2009


It's one of those questions that must cross the mind of everyone who seeks God. As we read Genesis chapter 22, that question was obviously pivotal for Abraham - the Father of Nations - too!
LAUGHTER - This story of Abraham and his longed for son "Isaac" (Hb - laughter) takes a turn that is unexpected and definitely not a laughing matter. It's a story about acting in a harsh and fatal way in response to doubt.
DOUBT - It begins with a doubt as to how God was going to fulfill his promise. Did God mean that 90 year old Sarah would bear 100 year old Abraham descendants as numerous as the stars of the sky and sands of the desert? Really! How absurd sounding that is! So for the rational minded like Sarah and Abraham perhaps their inability to have children is a sign that God needs then to intervene and help God in the fulfillment of His promise. So, Hagar was given by Sarah to Abraham and they had a son named Ishmael. However, innovative (and unfortunately disastrous this all around bad idea was) this is not what God had in mind. God is indeed almighty and capable of all things is He not?
AN ANNUNCIATION - God speaks to Sarah and Abraham through travelers who are passing not far from their tent on a hot and monotonous day. The overwhelming hospitality of Abraham and Sarah to these guests is rewarded as the travelers proclaim that Sarah will bear a son. It's unbelievable and Sarah and Abraham both laugh at the prospect, but that's exactly what happens. Sarah has a son and she and Abraham name him Isaac, which in Hebrew means "laughter" lest they forget their moments of doubt. So it was indeed what God said would happen. We often need to be reminded in our very scientific and logical world that impossible and incredible things are still happening today and God is their source.
THE QUESTION - So what is God thinking by commanding Abraham to sacrifice his only son - the son of the Promise - Isaac? I'm sure Abraham was not laughing now! However shocking this question is, it's not the real question. The real question is what does God want me to do to show Him how much I love him? That's the question? How much do we love God. And this would be exactly the question which Abraham must have asked himself as he moved into the promised land of Canaan and was surrounded by people who worshipped the god, Molech - who required believers to sacrifice their first born children to him or else!!!! Evidence of such sacrifices are found throughout the Bible - Lv 18:21; Lv 20:1-7; Ez 36:13; Ez 23: 37-39; Ez 16:20-22; Jr 32: 35; Jr 7: 31; Jr 19:5; Is 57: 5; Micah 6:7; Wis 14: 22; Ws 12: 1-7; Dt 12:31; 2 Kgs 16:3; 2Kgs 21: 6; 2Kgs 23:10. There's even reference made in the New Testament - Acts 7:19. As numerous the references are it demonstrates that the sacrifice of first born children was not just something that pagans did, but it was something practiced by the people of Israel too! Remember, the question is what does God want me to do to show Him that I love him? From the heinous and wicked practice of child sacrifice among pagans and the people of Israel comes the name of a place outside of Jerusalem where such abominable sacrifices were performed. We know the place as Gehenna - the Valley of Hinnom - which after generations of being a place of child and human sacrifice becomes a garbage dump just outside the walls of Jerusalem.
To what length? There is no doubt in my mind that the story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son of the Promise to God is written to condemn the practice of immolation of children or sacrificing the first born. I can also see it as a real temptation for Abraham. As he looked around and saw the length to which pagan worshippers of false and angry gods would go - he must have been shocked and yet impressed. Do I love my God that much that I would sacrifice my only son and the fulfillment of the promise? Do I have that much trust in my God as they seem to have in their false gods? Abraham answers "Yes." If it is what God wants Abraham to do to show God his faithfulness and love, then Abraham will do it. So here comes the important point! God does not want this sacrifice. The word for angel in this section of chapter 22 makes it clear that God Himself stops such an unspeakably heinous sacrifice. God does not want us to do this! Do not miss the point that Abraham is willing to sacrifice his son and promise if that is the Will of God. Thank goodness God tells us this is not nor never is such a thing His Will.
What a relief! Hopefully this is a relief for us all as we reflect on this story of Abraham. For all those times that we almost were convinced that killing is the answer and God would approve it under this or that circumstance the story gives us reason to rejoice. God does not want us to kill, sacrifice our sons/first born - even if everyone else does it, this is not how we are to ever show our faithfulness and love for God. As we sigh with gratitude we look around in our own world and see very religious people and groups within every major religion who believe that killing, murder, and death are indeed demanded and expected by the god they worship. This is not only their perception of what God demands, but they often go out and act on this perception with horrible and even catastrophic consequences. God says no to killing! Not under any circumstance! Are we listening to Him! What a relief to know that there are ways of being faithful to God that even He does not approve or condone! Not just killing but discrimination, persecution, hatred, anger, and torture all in the name of God are condemned.
So what about Jesus? This, of course, is the next question. So if God told Abraham not to sacrifice his son and the promise, what about our belief that God gave his only son, Jesus, to be sacrificed for an end of sin and death? Like Abraham, God was willing to give His only son if it meant an end of sin and death for his sons and daughters who he created out of love. Unfortunately, God's willingness is separate from the demand of Roman and Jewish Officials that Jesus be tortured and crucified upon the cross. Our God who was willing to make this ultimate sacrifice to demonstrate His infinite love for us would have been more than happy for the Romans, Jewish Leaders, and/or crowds to cry "Stop" instead of "Crucify Him!" and not go through with it. I guess there's the difference, those whose very lives and religious practices incorporated killing had no sense that what was happening to Jesus needed to stop and so it didn't. But God, would not be undone or defeated! God would show His awesome power not by death and carnage but by raising Jesus, His son, from death to life. This event that would change the world continues to call us to be people of life. We should not give in to the worlds' cry for death.
NO DOUBT ABOUT IT - So, back to the question. What are we to do to show our love for God? Clearly, we know from this story in scripture what we are not to do and what displeases God. So when we witness the use of fear, hatred, anger, threats, death, and murder in obedience to God we can rest assured that this is never what God wants and there's no doubt about it!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Second Week: Signs of God's Promise

SATISFACTION - With the disobedience of Adam and Eve in the Garden came the loss of what we as Catholics call the Preternatural Gifts: (1) Immortality; (2) Impassibility (freedom from every kind of evil, sorrow, pain and death); (3) Freedom from Concupiscence (unreasonable appetite to fulfill our every desire and want); (4) Ignorance; and (5) Sin (an offense against reason, truth, and right judgment). The serpent first evoked from Eve a sense of disatisfaction. Being created in the image and likeness of God and having the fullness of grace wasn't enough. She believed that by obeying the serpent she could be God's equal and in essence no longer need her creator and Lord. How true it is even today that dissatisfaction is often the springboard of sin and evil. If only Eve and Adam had responded, "I don't want or need that! I am satisfied with what I already have!" then how different would the world be.

FALL FROM GRACE, LOSS OF GIFTS - GOD'S LOVING RESPONSE- Unfortunately, following the fatal choice to disobey and break their covenant with God, Adam and Eve lose the preternatural gifts and the fullness of grace and joy. They are clothed by God in their shame and nakedness and led forth from the Garden with angels posted to guard their re-entrance. Instead of seeing the expulsion from the Garden as a punishment, it is an act of God's Mercy. God does not want Adam and Eve to remain in their fallen state forever and that is precisely what would happen if they remained in the Garden with access to the Tree of Life. So, God sends them forth out into the world and promises to send a savior/redeemer who will restore human kind to their original state full of grace and blessed with every good gift.

JESUS IN THE GARDEN & THE TREE OF LIFE - The connection between the first garden of the fall and the second garden where Jesus fulfills the Father's promise after the Fall in the first garden should not escape our attention. Jesus, as Son of the Father, will endure whatever is necessary to destroy the power of sin and death! The disobedience of the first Adam and Eve will be undone (recapitulated) by the actions of the new Eve (Mary) and the second Adam (Jesus). His willingness to suffer whatever he must out of "obedience" to his Father even to death on the cross (the new Tree of Life) which in the Gospel of John is both Jesus' throne of Judgment and the Table of the Passover. Amazing! He will do what is necessary to restore God's grace to humankind. John's Gospel will clearly contrast the obedience of the Jesus and Mary as the Second Adam and new woman with the disobedience of Adam and Eve.

THE DEVASTATING CYCLE OF SIN & DEATH - With the birth of Cain (Hb - spear/smith) and Abel (Hb - son), sin makes new in roads. The older and first born son of Adam & Eve will work as a tiller, keeper, and farmer of the land. Younger brother Abel will work as a shepherd. These details are not insignificant. What way of life most pleases the Lord? Will it be the farmer who lives a sedentary life or will it be the nomadic shepherd who is constantly on the move? God is pleased with the sacrifice made by Abel who gives the first born of his flock and rejects the sacrifice of Cain who gives some of his harvest in sacrifice to the Lord. God's pleasure with Abel's sacrifice indicates that we too must not get too sedentary, unmoving, and complacent in our life. Being satisfied is good, but that doesn't mean we should not keep moving forward.

BEING STUCK AND IMMOVABLE - The anger of Cain toward his brother is first noticed by God who tries to warn Cain from expressing his hostility with evil. Cain is described as downcast and reflects a disposition that is beneath the dignity of a man. Cain does not listen to God and calls Abel to go out into the fields with him - turning on his brother and killing him. The blood of Abel calls out to heaven and God who inquires of Cain the whereabouts of his brother. At this point we hear that famous question: "Am I my brother's Keeper?" Throughout history the agreed upon response has been, "Yes, I am my brother's Keeper!" It is certainly a worthy and appropriate response, but possibly not the original meaning.

While in my early years in seminary, I had the opportunity of doing an exegesis (exhaustive analysis) of the response of Cain to God. Much to my surprise, the general interpretation was not necessarily the correct one. The real response to "Am I my brother's Keeper?" is "No." Only God is our Keeper in the same way that there are other roles that uniquely belong to God. Being our Keeper is one of those roles uniquely belonging to God. Hopefully, you can anticipate what this means. Cain is chiding and talking back in a derogatory tone to the Lord. His words are more like, "You're God, your supposed to know everything. You should know where my brother is - don't ask me!" The same God who tried to turn Cain away from his anger and evil must now be subjected to the back talking that is the characteristic response of rebellious children to their parents. God responds with mercy - choosing not to kill Cain for killing his brother. Indeed God places a mark of protection on Cain and sends him to the Land of Nod (Nomads/Fugitives). It seems that Cain will have to be a nomad after all. Tradition suggests that the descendants of Cain will be shepherds, traveling musicians (Jubal - Trumpet), tinkers and metal workers. He will have to live his life on the move. The hope is that his wanderings and movement will eventually lead him back to the Lord.

THE FLOOD - A STORY OF DESTRUCTION OR SALVATION? - Reminiscent of the story found in the ancient text called the "Gilgamesh Epic" in which the hero Gilgamesh is searching for the secret to immortality, the story of Noah and the Flood also tells of a world-wide cataclysmic deluge. God will wash away all those who do evil by sending rain for forty days and forty nights. But God also sees the righteousness of Noah and his family and commands him to build an ark which will carry a hopeful surviving remnant of humans and animals to repopulate the world. I would suggest that the real point of the story is not destruction and death, but God's desire to save and deliver his faithful people. It is about salvation!

As a way to destroy evil and sin, the flood is a failure. Original sin was not washed away by the waters of the flood. Its affects can be seen in Noah who gets drunk and allows his drunkenness to become the impetous for more evil.

THE TOWER OF BABEL - THE CONFUSION OF LANGUAGES - In every building project there is always dissension. This building of a ziggurat to reach up into the heavens was no different. By the time it is reaching into the heavens, no one is speaking the same language any more. There is a complete communication breakdown. Above all it is not just a breakdown between men, but also a reminder of the terrible breakdown between God and humankind.

BAPTISM & THE HOLY SPIRIT - Very powerfully we see the eventual plan of God to use the flood as a foreshadowing of baptism in which we are saved and delivered from death and destruction - Original Sin. The communication barrier is broken down when the Apostles gather in the upper room after Jesus' Resurrection and become of one understanding and accord - even though they come from different parts of the world and speak confusing languages. Another happy reversal and hope for all of us who are unmovable, drowning and overwhelmed in the sea of humanity, and struggling to be understood and heard. There's Good News!!!!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Week #1 - In the Beginning...

THE FOCAL POINT AND COMPASS - "In the beginning" is not only a perfect opening line, but it becomes the definitive theme for everything that follows in the Sacred Scriptures and Bible. The Gospel for the 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time comes from the Gospel of Mark (Mk 10: 2-12) and has Jesus addressing questions about marriage and divorce. Jesus expresses a higher standard regarding marriage than even Moses had. Jesus' standard is based on what was in the beginning. The beginning becomes the key focal point for everything we find in the Scriptures. So when we read about God sanctioning war and causing the defeat of armies which includes tragedy and death, we need to look back to what God tells us about himself "in the beginning." It will be "in the beginning" that we will discover the truth about who God really is and His amazing plan for us.

IN THE BEGINNING - To really appreciate "the beginning" and how God created all that is over a period of seven days, we need to know that this story of creation was not written in a vacuum. There were other stories about creation that would have been quite familiar to the people of Israel. I imagine that after 430 years of slavery in Egypt that the people of Israel would have known well the story of creation which the Egyptians professed.

CREATION THE EGYPTIAN WAY - In the Egyptian story the god Ra came forth from the primal ocean of chaos known as Nun. As the story progresses we witness the hatred of Ra's grandson Set against his brother Osiris. So malicious is Set that he cuts his brother into many pieces and scatters them throughout the world. Humankind is created from Ra's tears. Unfortunately, humankind proved to be ungrateful so Ra created Sckhmet to efficiently slaughter all humans. Ra relents and the present world is created.

THE CREATION PARADE OF BABYLON - There are about a thousand years between the Slavery of the People of Israel in Egypt, their deliverance, inheriting a Land flowing with milk and honey and being exiled from Jerusalem in Babylon. From 598BC to 538BC, the Israelites were captives in Babylon and annually witnessed the grand parade through the streets of this amazing city. The parade wasn't your average event, it was the re-enactment of the creation of the world as the Babylonians saw it. Their story begins with conflict between the gods and goddesses and the eventual murder of the goddess Tiamat who is split in two and from her come the waters in the sky and the waters below. Her eyes become the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers. Marduk (also known as Bel) after murdering Tiamat becomes the King of all the gods and creates humans which in the Babylonian language are called "lullu." I'm sure you can agree with me that we've all met people who would fit that description. Perhaps, we've been a little "lullu" ourselves every now and then. But "Lullu" also meant barbarians and savages. Not a very positive or hopeful beginning from the Babylonian perspective.

THE POWER OF GOD'S WORD - One could easily imagine that the eventual story of creation of the people of Israel would contain some of the violence and bloody elements we find in the Egyptian and Babylonian versions. It is worth noting that unlike those stories which were full of blood, violence, death, murder, jealousy, and vengeance that the people of Israel set the record straight and offer the world a radically different account of creation in what we know of as the Book of Genesis - the book of the beginning. NO blood, no violence, no jealousy, no vengeance - just a loving God creating all that is by the power of his Word. It is powerful that in the Gospel of John we are told that Jesus is the Word of the Father. Jesus throughout the Gospel of John shows signs and works miracles all with the power of his word. Wow! And perhaps the most important concept of the creation is that everything that God created for the first 5 1/2 days, He created for man and woman - for us! Now that's something we should ponder. God wanted everything to be absolutely in place and perfect before he created man and woman. If you can imagine with me one moment what this suggests. God was so excited about all that he was creating for the man and the woman that he didn't want them to experience and see it until it was all done! He wanted to see the sheer surprise and delight in their faces! And then after God created the man and the woman he wanted them to rejoice in all that he Had created just for them. So after creating the beasts on the 6th Day, God creates man and woman in his image and likeness. This also remarkable because most primitive accounts of creation describe the creation of man as the creation of beasts and savages. Obviously, our God sees a big distinction between us and the beasts. We are created in his image and likeness. It was never intended for us to beasts. The point is that everything God did he did for man and woman(us) and everything God continues to do is for us, as well. What Jesus does in the Garden of Gethsemane and the suffering and death he endures, He does for us! The words God uses in Genesis, "Let there be" is translated into the word "Amen." It is a phrase and word that signified belief. In essence, God is saying that He believes in us and in all that he has created. What He has created is good and He believes in its goodness. The Gospel of John has Jesus using the word "Amen" frequently. Often there are two "Amens" together. The Jesus that heals and works amazing signs by the power of his word in John's Gospel also belives in us and our goodness. In fact, he believes so much that he is willing to give his own life so that death and sin will be destroyed. A powerful way to begin our Great Bible Adventure with so many insights and so much meaning to assist us in our journey through life.