Sunday, February 28, 2010

God’s Promises to Abraham and Us

(Second Sunday of Lent (C): This homily was given on February 28, 2010 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Genesis 15:5-18; Philippians 3:17-4:10.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Second Sunday of Lent 2010]

Here are 7 things that many Christians believe:

1. If you love and serve God faithfully in your life, the Lord will keep you physically healthy.
2. If you are a good Christian, God will always say yes to your prayers.
3. If you are faithful to the Lord, he will make you financially prosperous.
4. If you give your life completely to Christ, you will not have any serious problems in your life.
5. If you love God and are married, the Lord will see to it that your spouse always loves you back.
6. If you put the Lord first in your life, other people will recognize that fact and think you’re a wonderful person.
7. If you follow God’s rules in this life, you will always be rewarded in this life.

As I said a few moments ago, these are 7 beliefs which are held by many Catholics and by many other Christians. And that’s sad, because each and every one of them is false! (I’m sure you all realized that as I was going through the list—right?)

They’re not true, of course, because they involve false promises; or, to be more exact, they’re not true because they each express a promise that Almighty God has never made—to any human being!

In exchange for obedience and faithfulness, God never promised to keep you physically healthy for your entire life on earth (although you will probably avoid a lot of unnecessary medical problems if you’re obedient to him).

If you’re faithful, he never promised to say yes to all your prayers of petition. (Even the great saints were told no at times.)

He never promised financial prosperity in exchange for obedience (although if you live by the gospel ethic you will certainly avoid some financial difficulties that others experience—like the kind that come from excessive gambling!).

He certainly never said you won’t have any serious problems in your life. (Quite to the contrary, Jesus said that his disciples WOULD suffer in this world because of their faithfulness!)

He never promised those of you who are married that your spouse will always respond to your love with love (although that’s much more likely to happen in a good Christian marriage).

He never said that if you put him first in your life other people will always pat you on the back and tell you how wonderful you are. (The apostles who died as martyrs disproved that one.)

Nor did he ever say that if you live by his rules you will always be rewarded here on earth. (Sometimes that will happen, but in most cases the reward will come in eternity, not here.)

God does not deliver on these and on other promises that he’s never made. From a purely human perspective, you might say that’s the bad news. On the other hand, God does deliver on the promises he has made! And very often what’s delivered far exceeds our expectation—which is very, very good news!

Take, for example, the promise of many descendants that he made to Abram in today’s first reading from Genesis 15. God took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can. Just so shall your descendents be.” God also promised to give Abram a homeland—the land of Canaan. He promised to make of him “a great nation” in Genesis 12. He even promised to make him the “father of a host of nations” in Genesis 17 (he did that when he changed his name from Abram to Abraham).

And God did deliver on all these promises. Every last one of them. We know that from reading the rest of the Bible. But the fulfillment of these promises went far beyond anything Abraham could have possibly imagined at the time.

When he first received these promises from the Lord, Abraham probably thought to himself, “Oh this is really nice. God’s going to make me a really important guy! He’s going to give me a big family, a nice place to live, and a position of influence in the world. I like that!”

Abraham had no idea that God, through him, was establishing a spiritual family that would eventually extend over the entire planet, and include people not only from his generation, but also from every generation to come until the end of time! (Remember, we still call Abraham “our father in faith.”) Not only that, God made Abraham the father of a spiritual family that exists unto eternity; a spiritual family that actually transcends time! The promised land God gave him in Canaan all those years ago was merely a foreshadowing of the eternal promised land of the kingdom of heaven!

This, of course, is the goal of our lives as Christians; it’s the goal of our lives as baptized, Christian members of Abraham’s spiritual family. As St. Paul tells us in our second reading today from Philippians 3: “Our citizenship is in heaven.”

However, to reach that goal successfully, we need to cling to the other true promises that God has made to us in this life (not to the false promises I mentioned earlier that he has NOT made!).

So what has the Lord promised us if we’re faithful—besides heaven?

Well, among other things, he’s promised to be with us in every circumstance of our lives, good and bad. As Jesus said, “Know that I am with you always—always!—until the end of time.” (Matthew 28: 20)

He has not promised us a problem-free life, but he has promised us the grace we need to deal with our problems. What the Lord once said to St. Paul he says to each of us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for in your weakness my power reaches its perfection.” (2 Corinthians 12: 9)

And yes, he did promise us that we would suffer on this earth; but he also promised us that we could experience ‘victory’ in our suffering by allowing it to purify us and refine our faith. As Jesus said at the Last Supper: “You will suffer in the world. But take courage! I have overcome the world.” (John 16: 33)

And he promised us that all our acts of virtue and love, done in the state of grace, will be rewarded—if not here, then definitely in eternity. As he said in Matthew 10: 42, “And I promise you that whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these lowly ones because he is a disciple will not want for his reward.”

And as St. Paul reminded us, “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it so much as dawned on man what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2: 9)

We do not worship a god who reneges on his promises; nor do we worship a god who makes promises that he can’t—or won’t—keep.

We worship a God who is loving, compassionate and trustworthy: a God who fulfills every one of the promises that he has actually made to us.

O Lord, help us all to believe that, and to rely on you—and on your real promises—every day.