In the scripture readings we hear at a Sunday Mass there is usually a connection between the first reading and the gospel and the epistle has a lesson of its own. Today the connection is between the first reading and the epistle.
It is hard to imagine the event of the first reading in which God asks Abraham to offer his son, the son of his old age, his only, on an altar of sacrifice. Isaac was the son of Abraham and Sara’s old age. He was their promise of a blessed future for generations to come. Yet God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac and Abraham believed in his heart of hearts that God would be true to his promise that he would – through Isaac – be the father of a mighty nation. Trusting that God would be faithful to his promise Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son to God.
In his desolation on the cross burdened with a deep sense of abandonment Jesus cried,’ my God, my God why have you forsaken me?’ Even in that darkest of dark hours Jesus trusted the faithfulness of his Father’s promise of his vindication and that love would conquer hate and life would prevail over death. With this conviction Jesus spoke his last words, ‘into your hands I commend my spirit’ and breathed his last.
So many times we tempted to doubt God’s love and care for us. We think that the hard knocks that come our way are punishments from God. Visiting men and women in the hospital, good people seriously ill, I am too often asked the question, ‘what did I do wrong, was I so bad? There’ that twisted conviction, God is out to get me.
With thoughts like these we project unto God our own limited ability to let go of past hurts and wrongs, our own twisted wishes to get even. We project unto God our own limitations to love others, forgive others. There can be times when we can’t get our heads around the awesome truth that God did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all. We can’t get our heads around the truth that though our sins be as scarlet they will become white as wool, though they be red as crimson they will be white as snow. We can’t get our heads around the truth of God’s unconditional love for each one of us – there are no holds barred.
The people to whom Paul wrote this encouraging letter were men and women on the fringe of society. They were seen as different, looked upon with suspicion by family and friends because they had abandoned their faith in the gods and were believing in some criminal Jew who was put to death my crucifixion but then, they claimed, he’d came back from the dead. They were hounded and persecuted for their new found faith.
Paul’s letter was meant to help them stand fast. They were not alone, God, who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, is with them to strengthen them in their trust in him. Paul’s question to them is as valid today as it was then ‘if God is for us who can be against us’ hopefully these words strengthened the Coptic Christians as they faced their own deaths in Libya for their faith in Jesus Christ.
Whatever burdens of mind or body we bring to the Mass, whatever in our lives that causes us to wonder or question God’s love and care for each of us, may these powerful words of Paul strengthen our faith in the love we celebrate at this Mass – take eat, this is my body – take drink this is my life’s blood poured out for you…who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, disappointments, poor health, aging, loves gone sour, family disputes, loss of work, racism, sexism, discrimination – no in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
The motto of our Passionist community is – may the passion of Jesus Christ be always in our hearts. That’s another way of saying ‘If God is for us who can be against us. He who did not spare his own son but gave him up for us all, will he not with him also give us everything else.
As we continue to celebrate this conscious of our own weaknesses and worries may the words of Paul -If God is for us who can be against us? Strengthened us to live another day.