Fr. Biju Kannampuzha is the pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Barrie, Ont.
Ask any teenager, what’s the worst thing about school? The answer will likely be, “taking tests.” Taking tests isn’t usually fun. But sometimes it can be fun.
Three elderly gentlemen were at the doctor’s office for a memory test. The doctor said to the first man, “What is four times four?”
“Two-hundred and seventy-four,” he replied.
The doctor said to the second man, “It’s your turn. What is four times four?”
“Sunday,” replied the second man.
The doctor said to the third man, “Okay, now it’s your turn. What’s four times four?”
“Sixteen,” said the third man.
“That’s great,” said the doctor. “How did you get that?”
“Simple! I subtracted 274 from Sunday.”
Today’s first reading is from the book of Genesis chapter 22 which records the greatest test that Abraham ever faced. At the age of 75, Abraham enrolled in the “School of Faith.” Abraham had his fair share of tests and he was over 100 years old when he had the greatest test.
God said to Abraham, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”
Isaac was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. His birth was nothing short of miraculous; Isaac came along when Sarah was 90 and Abraham 100. And now God is saying, “Take him to a mountain and sacrifice him as a burnt offering.”
The life of Abraham reminds me of the day I spent at the SeaWorld theme park in San Antonio, Texas. It was 2006 and I was visiting my friend and his family in Houston. They decided to take me to SeaWorld so I could experience the exhilaration of a rollercoaster ride.
With great apprehension, I slid into the seat with the utmost hesitation and fear. I sat there in complete silence, the entire time asking myself: how do I handle this ride? What good is this doing for me? I’m up. I’m down. I’m scared and out of breath.
The longer we live, the more we realize that life is a rollercoaster ride. High hills, hairpin turns and abrupt stops. Sometimes the path is straight, but other times it can be filled with unanticipated curves. Just when you think you’ve settled down and can relax, you realize that the calm you were experiencing was only the ride climbing to the top of the first hill and then life soon drops you off a cliff.
God was testing Abraham’s trust in Him. Abraham was on a rollercoaster ride. God was testing Abraham’s trust by stretching it to the limit.
In the school of faith, all of us must have occasional tests or we will never know where we are spiritually. I believe the whole world is experiencing that in real time.
We are all feeling the highs and lows of the endless pandemic roller coaster. We are officially into the 12th month of COVID-19 restricted living. What a roller-coaster: lockdowns, working from home, social distancing; then eased restrictions and a bit more freedom only to turn around and have the same restrictions imposed yet again due to rising case numbers.
The testimony of Abraham forces us to ask ourselves: How do we walk with faith in today’s world? How do we develop a faith that trusts God for impossible promises? How do we develop a deep and lasting relationship with God? Do we trust God with our future? Is His will part of our decision making? What role does faith play in choosing a career, where to live and raise a family? How does faith make a difference in dealing with the pain of infertility and having to give up the one thing that means the most to us?
Abraham dealt with all of these questions and many more. He provides us with a model of how to trust God and walk with Him.
Although God’s command to sacrifice Isaac certainly broke Abraham’s heart, we would never know it from his actions or words. There’s no weeping. He didn’t complain. Abraham didn’t attempt to bargain with God. He dutifully carried out God’s instructions.
Our faith is not really tested until God asks us to bear what seems unbearable, to do what seems unreasonable and to expect what seems impossible.
There is an old saying, “All sunshine and no rain make a desert."
If we never have any down times, dark times, gloomy times in our life, we’ll be dried up. We’ll have no depth to ourselves, no maturity.
Life is a mixture of pain and pleasure, of victory and defeat, of success and failure, of mountain tops and valleys.
The Transfiguration story in today’s Gospel further reminds us of this truth. When Jesus began to tell his disciples that he would go to Jerusalem, undergo great suffering, be killed and on the third day be raised, their spirits dwindled and they began to have second thoughts as to whether Jesus is the Messiah.
Aware of their fears, Jesus took Peter, James and John to go with him for a mountaintop experience. There he was transfigured and God opened their eyes to see that Jesus is the Messiah.
Both Jesus and Abraham experienced this rollercoaster ride. They teach us a few important lessons to remember: ride peacefully, joyfully, faithfully and successfully.
First, surrender to the ride. There’s no stopping once you peak the hill and begin that dubious descent. There’s no brake pedal, no way to decelerate. The only thing you can do is raise your hands and surrender.
Second, ride it out. No one gets hurt unless they try to get off during the ride.
Third, know that you’re not alone. Jesus is riding with you. He’s there through all the ups and downs, through every sharp turn, and even if the journey takes your breath away.
Fourth, know the ride does end. It may seem like time is standing still, but trust that you are moving forward and the end of the ride is coming. Your feet will stand on solid ground again. Trust the Lord to be your firm foundation.
Let nothing separate us from the love of Christ: hardship, distress, pandemic or death. Brothers and sisters: If God is for us, who is against us?
This reflection is based on the readings for the Second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 22.1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Romans 8. 31-37; Mark 9.2-10.