|“Abraham's Journey to Canaan” by Pieter Pietersz. Lastman, 1614|
During the Fifth Week of Lent (especially in cycles B and C when the Gospel of Lazarus is not read on the Fifth Sunday of Lent) optional MassTexts are offered.
Reading 1: Genesis 17:3-9
Commentary on Gn 17:3-9
In ancient tradition, God changes the name of Abram to Abraham and takes dominion over him. He establishes his covenant, and in return for faithful worship from Abraham and his descendants, God promises to make Abraham’s line interminable, and the land he lives in a permanent possession. It is interesting to note that this action takes place after the birth of Ishmael to Hagar and before the birth of Isaac to Sarai, his wife.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 105:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
R. (8a) The Lord remembers his covenant for ever.
Commentary on Ps 105:4-5, 6-7, 8-9
This section of Psalm 105, a song of thanksgiving, recalls God’s covenant with Abraham, the promise of the Land of Canaan, and calls for continued faithfulness. The psalmist recalls that God’s covenant extends to all the generations that follow “…for a thousand generations.”
Gospel: John 8:51-59
Commentary on Jn 8:51-59
St. John’s Gospel continues Jesus’ dialogue with the Jews in the Temple area. He again alludes to the resurrection of the faithful (“…whoever keeps my word will never see death”), but these Jews either do not understand or do not believe in the resurrection. They challenge Jesus, asking if he places himself above Abraham and the prophets who died.
In response, the Lord reiterates his relationship to the Father, and in doing so makes clear that Abraham would have recognized his status because he (Jesus) is eternal (“…before Abraham came to be, I Am”). Jesus uses the title God ascribes to himself and that is reserved to the Logos, the word made flesh.
Not understanding the truth of Jesus’ words, the Jews “picked up stones” to punish him for blasphemy but Jesus left the temple area.
God speaks to us from two different parts of sacred scripture saying almost the same thing. From Genesis we hear God saying to Abraham: “…you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages," and then in St. John’s Gospel, Jesus says: “…whoever keeps my word will never see death." God was telling Abraham that for all the blessings being promised to him and his descendants, the land, the bounty, and the fertility (continuing his lineage indefinitely), he and his descendants needed to keep their part of the promise. They were to follow God’s Law, worshiping him only. In Abraham’s covenant, all of the stipulations of Mosaic Law had not been spelled out. It was much simpler, but apparently much more difficult to understand.
Fast forward now a thousand years or more. God’s people have failed time and again. They have been given the Law of Moses to clarify what God had spoken to Abraham. The Lord God had sent great Prophets, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all the others to try to encourage the people to have faith. They (the prophets) promised that God would send his deliverer, an anointed one, to lead them to the peace and joy of God’s kingdom. God tried so many times to help them understand the heart of the law and his will through the prophets.
Into a later point in history when the people again had failed and had been subjugated, this time by the great Roman Empire, comes a humble carpenter from Galilee. He comes to the very source of power in all of Israel and Judea, to Jerusalem, where all the faithful Hebrews are called in pilgrimage. He comes just as preparations are under way for the great Passover Feast which celebrates God’s saving power, when Moses led the children of Israel out of bondage.
This upstart holy man comes to the temple and says something remarkable. He claims God as his Father. He claims a shared identity, naming himself with God’s only name “I Am.” And he says the same thing God said to Abraham, but even broadens the promise of salvation, as if in clarification of the Covenant of Abraham. He says “…whoever keeps my word will never see death." Like almost all of the descendants of Abraham before them, they took offense and did not understand, would not trust, and could not believe.
And since that time, two thousand years past, after saint upon saint has come before us, valorously showing us what the words mean, we still find it difficult to grasp, to believe in our hearts and to act upon those words. Is it because it is not clear? What does it mean to “keep Jesus’ word?” What was that word? He made it clear in his public life. He lived “his word” in his example and in his preaching. It can be summed up in one word – Love! But he applied it like no one before him and no one since. He applied it to everyone but first of all to God. Love God and love one another. This is his word. And since we have come to understand that Jesus is God, we must love him above all else as well.
Alas, our imperfect grasp of his word still bars us from the perfect peace and grace he promises all his faithful. Our Lenten fast drives us toward a deeper understanding and a deeper application of his word in our lives. We pray that we will finally live it as he intended and find life as he promised.
 The picture today is “Abraham's Journey to Canaan” by Pieter Pietersz. Lastman, 1614