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Thursday – Fifth Week – Lent
Readings: Gen 17:3-9; Jn 8:51-59.
1/ First Reading: NAB Genesis 17:3 When Abram prostrated himself, God continued to speak to him: 4 “My covenant with you is this: you are to become the father of a host of nations. 5 No longer shall you be called Abram; your name shall be Abraham, for I am making you the father of a host of nations. 6 I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings shall stem from you. 7 I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. 8 I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now staying, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession; and I will be their God.” 9 God also said to Abraham: “On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.”
2/ Gospel: NAB John 8:51 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” 52 (So) the Jews said to him, “Now we are sure that you are possessed. Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ 53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? Or the prophets, who died? Who do you make yourself out to be?” 54 Jesus answered, “If I glorify myself, my glory is worth nothing; but it is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ 55 You do not know him, but I know him. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know him and I keep his word. 56 Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad. 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.
Written by: Fr. Anthony Tien M. Dinh, O.P.
I. THEME: God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled in Christ.
Today, more than a half of the world’s population proudly declare that Abraham is their forefather, they are: Judaism, Islam and Christianity; but they don’t consider each other as brothers and sisters. The Jews think that only them are Abraham’s descendants through Isaac. The Muslim think they are Abraham’s descendants through Ismael. The Christians think they are Abraham’s descendants by their faith in Christ. A re-reading of the covenant between God and Abraham is necessary to correct misunderstanding and to help people to live friendly with one another.
Today readings concentrate on the covenant which God made with Abraham. In the first reading, the author of Genesis reported the covenant which God made with Abraham. According to the covenant, God shall make him the father of “the host of nations,” not only of Israel. To Abraham and his descendants, they must keep what God commanded. In the Gospel, Jesus declared that Abraham was glad to see Jesus’ day. Because of him, God’s promise with Abraham which is to be the father of “the host of nations” was fulfilled.
1/ Reading I: God establishes a lasting covenant with Abraham.
1.1/ On God’s part: There are three things that God promises to Abraham.
(1) Be the father of the host of nations: This is an important promise; we need to study this promise in detail.
His original name was Abram, meaning “the father is glorified.” God changed his name to Abraham, meaning “the father of a big crowd, ab hamôn.” This new name was implied in God’s promise to him, “you are to become the father of a host of nations.” The important part of the promise is that his descendants shall not be limited in Israel but expanded to many nations. If it is only limited in Israel, Abraham can’t have descendants as numerous as stars in heaven or sand on the seashore.
How can this promise be fulfilled? St. Paul answered by people’s faith in Christ. He wrote: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Gal 3:27-29).
“Kings shall stem from you”: Two important kings from Abraham’s descendants are king David and Christ, the everlasting king.
This is an eternal covenant, not depending on time or space; but extending through all generation: “I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact.”
(2) The Promise Land: “I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now staying, the whole land of Canaan, as a permanent possession.” When God made this covenant with Abraham, the Israel wasn’t a nation yet. This promise was fulfilled when Joshua led the Israelites to this Canaan land after forty years wandered in the desert.
(3) Blessing and protection: “I promise to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.”
1.2/ On Abraham and his descendants’ part: The main duty of Abraham and of his descendants is to believe in God and to do what He commands.
2/ Gospel: The relationship between Jesus and Abraham
2.1/ Jesus promised his audience, “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.” Jesus also declared a similar sentence with Martha when she prayed to him for her brother, Lazarus, to be alive: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (Jn 11:25-26).
Here, Jesus didn’t talk about the physical life, rather the spiritual life. Those who believe and keep Jesus’ words, always live. Though they must die physically, but this death is a step that leads them to the eternal life with God. The eternal life is already started in this life.
The Jews didn’t understand what Jesus meant, they protested: “Now we are sure that you are possessed. Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? Or the prophets, who died? Who do you make yourself out to be?”
2.2/ God’s promise to Abraham was fulfilled in Christ.
(1) Jesus knows God and obeys Him: Jesus declared to them: “You do not know him, but I know him. And if I should say that I do not know him, I would be like you a liar. But I do know him and I keep his word.”
People, even they try their best, only partly know about God. Jesus knows about God as He is because he is God’s wisdom. If people want to know about God, they must believe in Jesus’ revelation. Moreover, Jesus always obeys God in all things. If people want to know how to obey God in all things, they must also learn from Jesus. He completely does his Father’s will. The Jews declared they knew God, but in reality, they didn’t know and obey Him.
(2) Abraham and Jesus: In yesterday passage, Jesus proved to the Jews that they weren’t Abraham’s descendants because they didn’t do what Abraham did. In today passage, he proved to them one more time that they weren’t Abraham’s descendants because they weren’t joyful to welcome him as Abraham: “Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” How can one explain this sentence? The easiest way is to use St. Luke’s passage about the story of Lazarus and the rich man (cf. Lk 16:22-31). Abraham is in heaven; he looks down and sees the whole thing. The Jewish tradition believes that God let Abraham foresee the day of the Messiah to be born, and he was joyful of this day. The Church’s tradition believes Abraham and all the dead were resurrected when Jesus descended to the Hades and raised them up on the Easter Vigil.
The Jews protested: “You are not yet fifty years old and you have seen Abraham?”Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.”So they picked up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid and went out of the temple area.
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
A re-reading of the lasting covenant which God made with Abraham we saw these important things:
(1) The descendants of Abraham are expanded to all nations, not limited only in Israel.
(2) Everybody can become Abraham’s descendants by putting their faith in Christ and do what he commands.
(3) If one belongs to Israel and doesn’t believe and do what Christ commands, he isn’t an Abraham’s descendant, because he didn’t believe in the one sent by God.