Obedience in Faith to God: 2nd Sunday of Lent
Sermon by Emmanuel Suntheni OSB
First Reading: Genesis 22:1–2, 9–13, 15–18
Psalm: Psalm 116:10, 15–19
Second Reading: Romans 8:31–34
Gospel: Mark 9:2–10
SERMON AND LISTENING TO THE WORD
Theme: “Obedience in Faith to God”
Point of reflection: To who should we listen and obey? And what must we listen and obey? Simon Peter answered Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (Cf. John 6:68).
Sermon (Reflection): The Scripture readings of the second Sunday of Lent focuses on the theme of Obedience in Faith to God. The word “obedience” comes from Latin and means “to listen intently”. Listening intently to God means being attentive to the diverse ways in which God reveals Himself through persons and events, and to respond to the invitation to accept and follow God’s will and guidance.
St Benedict of Nursia started his rule for monks and nuns with a word “ausculta” which simply means listening, “listen carefully my child to your master’s instruction with the ear of the heart”. He invited his monks and nuns to always listen with the ear of the heart. As Christians, we are all called to listen to the Word of God and listening implies obedience and obedience connotes Faith. My dear friends of God, every human being is called to listen and obey, but the question is who to obey or listen to who? And we may ask further, what to obey or what to listen to?
Today’s Scriptural readings biblically, respond to humanity what to listen and obey, and who to listen to and obey. The first reading presents a shocking story of the sacrifice of Isaac-the long-awaited son of Abraham (Cf. Genesis 22:1–2, 9–13, 15–18). Biblical stories especially First Testament(OT) are not intended to be read as literal accounts of words and events, but as imaginative tales and epics meant to explain, instruct, and inspire. God makes an incomprehensible demand that this gift (Isaac) be returned to Him through human sacrifice when he says, “take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love… and offer him there as a burnt offering”. This demand might shock a literary reader, as it appears to portray God as a bloodthirsty deity ordering the killing of an innocent child for no apparent reason.
However, the story’s true meaning comes to light when its historical and cultural context is taken into account. The biblical writer of Genesis wrote this story in the context of the Canaanite society of his day, where the sacrificial killing of children was a common religious practice designed to please their gods. This strange story of God telling Abraham to kill His only son as a sacrifice is not about God but about Abraham and is meant to instruct on the right human response to God and His will. The centre of the story is Abraham’s obedience in faith to God. Abraham obeyed God’s command.
As Christians, do we obey and listen to the commandments of God? We are in Lenten season, are we adhering to the Lenten appeal of almsgiving-prayer-fasting-love?
At the end of the story, God stops Abraham’s hand from striking Isaac at the last moment. Instead of the sacrifice, in the final part of the reading, God praises Abraham’s unqualified obedience to God’s incomprehensible command. My dear brothers and sisters, are we ready to obey and listen to God’s will?
Through this story, the author of Genesis teaches that in life we will succeed if we have faith, trust and obedience to God’s commands. Abraham’s faith in God’s earlier promise, to make him the father of a multitude of nations, was confirmed and affirmed on an even higher level by his willingness to do whatever God required, even at great personal cost. The story affirms that such obedience and trust are the required expressions of true success in life. It is only through obedience in faith to the will of God that we will be successful in life.
St Paul in the second reading discloses that God manifested his love and commitment through His Son’s death on the cross (Cf.Romans 8:31–34). Like Abraham in the Genesis story, God also was willing to give up His beloved Son so that, through the Son’s willing obedience, death might be defeated, and salvation be offered to all.St Paul consistently interprets Jesus’ death as an act of obedience, as seen in Philippians 2:8 where he writes that Jesus “humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on the cross”. Here, Jesus’ obedience is not simply blind submission, but a conscious choice to do what is necessary to make people’s salvation possible. The question to us Christians is that, are ready to obey God’s commandments? It is only by obeying in faith God’s will that we will be saved. We need to give up ourselves for the Lord.
The Gospel of today which is the Markan Transfiguration event responds to our initial-viable questions: who to listen to and obey? What to listen to and obey? St Mark says …then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”(Cf. Mark 9:7). Thus the pinnacle of our faith. We need to listen to the Beloved Son who is Jesus Christ. They are many voices in our life, but we need to listen to one voice which is from God. Our call during this Lenten period is to listen to the Word of God and to live according to the Word of God.
They are two main points to note in the Gospel reading of the second Sunday of Lent which contains the Markan narrative of the Transfiguration (Cf. Mark 9:2–10): Jesus’ identity and Jesus’ mission as the suffering messiah. But what is quite interesting to note is where the event took place. It was on a mountain-top. The question to each one of us during this Lenten period is-where do we go to pray? In the Bible, mountains are the places for encountering God, places of revelation.
First, accordingly, the Transfiguration story intends to reveal Jesus’ identity. The word “transfiguration” comes from the Greek term “metamorphosis”, which means “to change”. Jesus changed His appearance to demonstrate His true identity as a divine person. This happened before the three disciples; Peter, James, and John. The fact is that God Himself confirmed Jesus as His Son in the presence of the disciples and before Moses and Elijah. These two prominent figures represent constitutive parts in the First Testament (OT): the Law and the Prophets. This shows that Jesus’ divine identity was publicly confirmed by the greatest authority.
Second, the glorious Transfiguration event discloses the nature of Jesus’ mission as the suffering Messiah. For this reason, Mark places this event at the midpoint of the Gospel, just as Jesus begins to make His way to Jerusalem and towards His death. Furthermore, coming down from the mountain, Jesus instructs the disciples not to disclose what they had seen and learned about Him until after the resurrection. This means that He fully understood that His mission as the Messiah and the Son of God involved his self-sacrificial death, which will be followed by the resurrection. Are we ready to be crucified with Jesus during this Lenten period? The Way of the Cross symbolises our readiness to die with Jesus Christ. If we die with Christ then we will rise again with Christ on Easter.
Listening to the Word of God “Obeying in Faith to the Will of God”
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life (Cf. John 3:16). The Son who is Jesus Christ obeyed the Father. Obedience implies surrender to somebody else’s will and guidance. Such surrender can be fruitful and life-giving only if we trust that the one whom we obey has our best interest at heart. Jesus Christ obeyed His Father in Heaven because the Father had the best interest at heart for salvation. Today too, as Christians, we need to obey our parents and elders. Traditionally, obedience to parents and elders in Africa has been understood as the source of blessings and long life, precisely because the intention of these authorities are meant to provide the best future for the young. This symbolizes love.
Love precedes obedience and grace comes before duty. Hence, by obeying in Faith to the will of God, humanity will be saved. Therefore, contemplating on obedient Abraham, and Jesus self-sacrifice during this Lenten period may help us to realise just how great God’s love for us is. When we appreciate how much we are valued and cherished, then obedience to God’s commands, and following His ways will become a natural response of gratitude, rather than grudging compliance. Obedience must go with genuine love.
Conclusively, we can say that those living in willing obedience to God and God’s ways can truthfully exclaim with the Psalmist, “O Lord, I am your servant, I will walk in your presence O Lord” (Cf. Psalm 116).
Action: This week I (we) need to learn to listen and obey to God and my (our) fellow human beings. It is only by listening and obeying that my (our) life finds fulfilment. Obedience demands sacrifice. I (we) will make one concrete act of sacrifice during this week, one that will be in line with the teaching of the Gospel and benefit me or somebody else, spiritually. Not forgetting Prayer-Almsgiving-Fasting-Love.
Prayer: Almighty Father, during this Lenten period accompany us as we listen and obey in faith to You, so that we may be good listeners and doers of your word, and be obedient to your divine inspiration. May we emulate the obedient Abraham, and Jesus Christ our Saviour, intercede for us to God the Father, so that, like Him, we may be obedient to God’s will. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, Amen.
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