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Homily for 2nd Sunday Lent, Year B, 2024

As we know, Lent is a time of renewal. It is when we make a special effort to turn back to God and believe the Good News. It is when we try to get back on track. And part of this effort is to remember what counts, what motivates, what we believe, where our hope lies. And perhaps hope is way into our readings today. And I want to look at hope in the context of sacrifice in our first reading.


We could have a long chat about the place of human sacrifice in religion. Our society deludes itself into thinking this is all in the past, mostly because it thinks it is not religious and that, therefore, the sacrifice we make of others is just the cost of doing business, the cost of getting ahead, the cost of achieving my dreams. On the other side, we read increasing accounts of people refusing to have families, of young people being scared out of having children because of apocalyptic tales. Again, religious ignorance breeds and hides superstition. The old gods are definitely back, if they ever left, and therefore so is the old worship, of which child sacrifice was the worst form.


However, there is something even more fundamental about this idea of human sacrifice. Something that speaks to the very core of human reality. When we read the sacrifice of Abraham and Isaac – and it is worth remembering that Isaac would have been an adult and therefore participating voluntarily – when we read the account of God asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, we are touching on something that lies at the very heart of parenthood.


Every parent is asked to hand over his or her child. A parent’s job is to raise children to be free. This freedom must always entail a letting go. A parent offers the child the chance to live. This is a sacrifice in the most basic sense. “Sacrum facere” means to do or make the sacred. Every parent in having a child must believe that life is good, must have hope that life is worth living, must commit to the hard work of handing on life in its most fundamental form.


This is what is going on in the story of Abraham and Isaac. The sacrifice is part of the covenant that God has entered into with Abraham. A covenant relationship in the Ancient Near East was part kinship and part kingship. It established a familial relationship and a hierarchy. Both aspects spoke to a sense of life, both in terms of community and meaning. One had a family, somewhere I belong, and all the benefits and responsibilities that goes with such a belonging. And therefore the key term of the contract was fidelity, complete fidelity. That is obviously what is at stake in our reading today.


This is a profound description of parenthood. For so many people, the creation of a family introduces a deep sense of belonging, and a sense of meaning.  My child demands my life, and I want to give it. Fidelity is of its very nature, both in marriage and in parenthood. But the demand is one of freedom. The child demands love, and demands to be taught to love, and therefore to grow in freedom. In the end, the child must grow in freedom in order fully to return the love to the parent.


Christianity, though, reveals the fullness of this mystery. Before parents offer up their children, God does. God hands over his children to parents to raise. Christianity teaches that parents are stewards of God’s children. This is pointed to in the story of Abraham. Not only do we have the substitute of the lamb in our story today, but in one of the preceding sacrifices, it is God rather than Abraham that performs the ritual of fidelity.

And for St Paul in our second reading, this is the ultimate guarantee. What we celebrate in our Eucharist, when we lift up our hearts, is in fact the fullness of what loving parents know in their heart of hearts. God has given me everything. In Christ, the truth of parenthood is fully realised. He is our faith. He is our hope. It makes sense to walk confidently. To plan a future, a family.


More than that, though, our first reading tells us more. This is not simply the sacrifice by the parents. It is also the life of the child. The promise that God makes to Abraham will be fulfilled through Isaac. Isaac too must be faithful. Isaac too must participate in the sacrifice. Isaac must offer his own life.


Again, this truth is fulfilled in Christ. In other accounts of the Transfiguration, Jesus is talking to Moses and Elijah about his exodus. He is talking about his sacrifice. He is talking about the ultimate act of freedom, offering his life, the life of his heavenly Father and the life of his mother, the offering of his life for the life of the world. And in this moment, his divinity is revealed to his closest disciples. This is to be the source of hope when they face his death.


This is what life is. This is what in Lent we must rediscover. That life is to be offered, and a life that is not offered is already dead. Perhaps then this Lent we might reflect on what we love most and how we offer it. Perhaps this might be a way to get back on course. To discover again God’s call to fidelity. But most of all to discover again, how profoundly faithful God is already to us.  

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