Thursday in the Fifth Week of Lent
Genesis 17:3ff. Abraham continues to believe in God’s promises, despite long delays and disappointments.
John 8:51ff. The mysterious relationship between Jesus and Abraham, who looked forward to the age of the Messiah.
Abraham’s Enduring Promise
The promises to Abraham reach into the future, even into centuries beyond our present age. In his vocational encounter with God, the patriarch anticipated a day when all the nations of the world will be united as though they were blood-relatives, all of them offspring of their one father, Abraham. Of course, the different races of planet earth and the various ethnic groups cannot claim a common genealogy of blood descent. The promised bond can happen only by sharing the same spirit of faith – and that means faith in land promised equally to all, faith in a way of salvation where no single group travels alone, faith in a common sharing of earth’s riches, faith in the one divine dignity of all human beings.
Abraham’s exodus from his native land, when compared to the later exodus from Egypt under Moses, has a much more universal sweep. It prefigures the kingdom of David when the Israelites opened lively diplomatic relations on an international scale and absorbed many customs and values of their neighbours – all with God’s blessing. The promises to Abraham advise us to think big, to respond openly, to seek and dream the divine ideal of one world, one people.
While Abraham looks ahead with hope, the words of Jesus reach back not only to the age of the great patriarch (1850 B.C.) but even behind that first day in Israel’s history to the eternal day before creation. “Before Abraham came to be, I AM.” Jesus identifies himself with Yahweh. This name for God, very special and sacred to Israel, means in the Hebrew language “He who is always there.”
Jesus, consequently, claims to be more than the fulfillment of Abraham’s faith and hopes; Jesus is one with the God who planned our destiny before the universe was created, directed world history so that Abraham would focus the hopes of all people, led Israel’s history forward till this eternal Word became incarnate as Jesus, son of Mary. As the great I AM, Jesus is the Lord of our history. His hopes and plans will remain at least partially unfulfilled until all men and women are at one. We are reminded of St. Paul’s famous statement: “All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free person, male or female; for all are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, you are the descendants of Abraham, which means you inherit all that was promised. (Gal 3:27-29)
Abraham rejoices to see Jesus’ spirit still flourishing among his followers. The heart of father Abraham will beat with greater satisfaction to the extent that each of us breaks down barriers of prejudice, of antagonism and refusal to forgive. Abraham is pleased that our church across the world champions the rights of oppressed people, of all who are neglected and excluded. Charity of this kind will earn the promise of Jesus: “if anyone is true to my word, that person shall never see death.” Charity surpasses faith and hope and alone extends into the future life of heaven. The bond of love promised in Abraham, fulfilled in Jesus, summons us to the only way we can live forever.
First Reading: Genesis 17:3-9
Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God.”
God said to Abraam, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations.”
Gospel: John 8:51-59
Very truly, I tell you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” The Jews said to him, “Now we know that you have a demon. Abraham died, and so did the prophets; yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? The prophets also died. Who do you claim to be?” Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, he of whomyou say, ‘He is our God,’ though you do not know him. But I know him; if I would say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you. But I do know him and I keep his word. Your ancestor Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; he saw it and was glad.” Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.