Lent and the Spirit of Sacrifice

“A voice came out of the cloud, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to him.’” (Mark 9:7)

Last Sunday, we read the story of Noah. The sins of mankind had risen to a point that God regretted creating man but out of all the men that lived, Noah alone was found pleasing in God’s sight. Like Jesus, Noah resisted temptations to sin; temptations to become like others. For this reason, Noah and his family were saved from the flood. As soon as Noah came out of the Ark, do you know the first thing he did? In Genesis 8:20-22 we read:

“Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odour, the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man… neither will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’”

In today’s First Reading, we are presented with the story of Abraham our Father in faith. Interestingly, just as Noah offered a sacrifice to God that pleased God so much, we find Abraham offering a very huge sacrifice; the sacrifice of his only begotten son, Isaac – the same Isaac that was born to him after twenty-five long years of waiting.

Although Abraham did not kill his son Isaac, the very fact that he was willing to do so in obedience to God’s command, further endeared him to God’s heart. If I may ask, what is the highest sacrifice you have ever made or are willing to make for God? Come to think of it, is there anything too much for God?

Meanwhile, in our Gospel passage, Jesus takes with Him Peter, James and John to a mountain to pray and there He was transfigured before them. Moses and Elijah appeared and were talking with Jesus about his imminent death. Peter wanted to build three tents, he was ready to offer a sacrifice (accommodation) for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. If we ever get to catch a glimpse of heaven, we would realize that all our sacrifices are truly worth it.

The voice of God was heard from heaven saying: “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him” meaning that just as Abraham was willing to give his only begotten son, God for His part willingly gave His only begotten Son as a sacrifice for our salvation. Reflecting on this fact, St. Paul in our second reading today assures us that if God did not spare His own Son Jesus Christ for our sake, then there is absolutely nothing He cannot do for our sake. (Romans 8:31-34) For our good, God will do anything. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for his sheep. (John 10:15)

Indeed what a marvellous God we serve; a God who would never give His children a snake when they ask for fish, nor a scorpion when they ask for egg (Cf. Luke 11:11-12); a God who provides (just as He provided a ram for Abraham after he had passed the test); a God who can be trusted even in times of affliction and testing (as our responsorial psalm today sings).

Without doubt, there are many lessons in our readings for today. Let us now identify some of them:

1. There is Power in Sacrifice.
From the very beginning of creation, mankind has always worshipped God through sacrifice. The concept of sacrifice cuts across various religions all over the world. The truth is that if we are expecting to get God’s attention or to receive from Him, we must be willing to give something in return – something that costs us. Abel sacrificed the best of what He had, Noah sacrificed the cleanest of all the animals, Abraham gave his son Isaac, even Jesus as man gave His very life.

There are enormous blessings that come with offering a sacrifice for God; blessings which outweigh whatever it is we are giving. As we hear in today’s first reading: God said to Abraham: “By myself, I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore. And your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves.” (Genesis 22:16-18)

During this lent, we are called to sacrifice through fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Sacrifice your food and use it to feed the poor, provide water for the thirsty. Sacrifice your time so you can dedicate at least one or two hours in a day to God in prayer. Sacrifice your money to help the poorest of the poor around you. One sacrifice God demands of us today is forgiving the trespasses of others. Of course, none of these things are easy to do but bear in mind that no sacrifice is ever unrewarded.

2. In Moments of Trial, Trust Firmly in God.
Let’s face it, bad things often happen to good people. Abraham must have been shocked when God asked him to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham remained steadfast because He believed that the God who gave him Isaac was capable of giving Him more sons. The fact that we are God-fearing Christians does not in any way immune us from sad times.

Saint Teresa of Avila once asked God why her life was so full of trials and God said: “Do not complain, this is how I treat my friends.” In response, St. Teresa yelled: “Ah, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few.” In this light, St. Ignatius of Loyola would say: “If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and He certainly wants to make you a saint.”

The Psalmist proclaims: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4). Our love for God does not take away the valleys and shadows of death, it only prevents us from fear. When things become very rough for you, know that it could just be test, do not let fear paralyse you; do not lose your trust in God. Tell yourself: “This too shall pass… dry bones shall rise again…” Do not bow to the devil just because you want your sufferings to end immediately. Trust firmly in God.

3. Leadership is all about Sacrifice.
Any leader who is not willing to sacrifice himself or herself for those under their care does not deserve to be a leader. This is the root cause of all the problems we face in our country today. At all levels, we have bad shepherds who care more about their pockets than the people they govern. Insecurity has risen to a level where we can almost say we no longer have a government in power. I heard on the radio some state governors closing down boarding houses permanently since it has become “normal” now to hear over 300 students kidnapped and driven for miles to unknown locations. No one is safe anymore because we have leaders who are only thinking of their own interests.

The Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria in their message (titled: We must Pull Back From Brink Of Collapse) noted: “Despite the persistence of crises around us; assassinations, Covid 19, kidnappings, murders, banditry, armed robberies, we sincerely affirm our faith in the viability and desirability of the Nigeria Project, as one prosperous nation under God. But we are also convinced that building such a nation, especially in our present circumstances, comes at a cost. We are also convinced that the alternative of tearing ourselves apart, comes with a cost that is far higher than what it takes to keep ourselves together. We must be ready to seek a common purpose with sincerity of mind. As individuals and as groups, we ought to be ready to make the necessary sacrifices that would enable us to manage our differences better and turn them into a positive rather than a negative force. Governments at different levels ought to lead the way.”

If no one is willing to sacrifice like Abraham for this great nation, things would only get worse.

4. This is my Beloved Son; Listen to Him.
We would conclude our reflection today by pondering on the words spoken by the voice of God the Father at the Transfiguration. God not only identifies Jesus as His beloved Son, He also particularly emphasizes that we have to listen to Him. During this Lenten season, try to switch off your phone for at least 30 minutes every day just to pick the call of God by reading and meditating on the Bible. If possible, make it a habit this lent to visit the Blessed Sacrament alone and spend quality time in God’s presence.

Let us Pray: Lord Jesus, teach me how to sacrifice and reward my sacrifices for your sake. Nourish me daily with your word so that with a pure heart, I may behold your glory. Amen.

Second Sunday of Lent, Year B. Bible Study: Genesis 22:1-18, Psalm 116, Romans 8:31-34 and Mark 9:2-10.

Fr. Abu

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