The Sunday Project

Abraham Unbound

Second Sunday of Lent |

By Joey
balloons being released
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First Reading
Gn 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18

God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, “Abraham!” “Here I am!” he replied. Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”

When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Here I am!” he answered. “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger. “Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son.

Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said: “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing— all this because you obeyed my command.”

Second Reading
Rom 8:31b-34

Brothers and sisters: If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?

Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us, who will condemn? Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised— who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

Gospel Reading
Mk 9:2-10

Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.

As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.

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As a gay Catholic who believed what the Church taught about my sexuality for 25 years, I cannot help but see in the story of Abraham and Isaac the same drama that played out within me.

To be sure, the Christian story is always one in which we as followers of Christ realize that we have been listening to the voices of false gods, and come to believe in the God of Jesus, the Life. As queer Catholics, though, we are too often raised to believe that God is a capricious and jealous deity who tricks us, bestowing on us our sexuality, with its promise of giving us life like nothing else, only to ask us to slaughter it on the altar. 

The Church reminded us during the first week of Lent that the true fasting that God asks of us is “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke.” (Isaiah 58:6) This is no easy task when the oppression is material – how long have we failed to ease hunger and poverty in the modern world, rich as we are? How, then can we begin to undo the ties that bind invisibly, the internalized homophobia that stems from a lifetime of hearing that we are damaged goods?

It’s no theoretical question – long after we have started to understand the goodness of the God-given gift of our sexuality, the trusty old Catholic guilt can still rear its head. Isaac may be free within us, but Abraham may still be left bound with doubt – how can he be sure he hasn’t merely made a god of his own desire in setting his son free?

I wish I could say that there is a simple solution, a silver-bullet argument that would lay rest to these doubts once and for all. But I do believe that Christ is the Way, and today’s Gospel grants us a glimpse of the way forward, as he stands on the mountain, transfigured in glory, with the voice that speaks, “This is my beloved Son.” 

This, at least, is the shape of own journey towards affirmation. When I joined a contemplative religious order, I had not the slightest intention of changing my mind – the brokenness of my sexuality was mysterious, but I had not the slightest doubt that I was asked to renounce any expression of it. Then came my novitiate year – a mountain-top experience where, as earnestly as I could, I tried to listen to that voice speaking to me of my unconditional belovedness, with all its implications. 

It is only in drawing near to the living God that we become aware of the ways we have been worshipping dead gods. As I started to realize just how distorted and violent my image of God had been, I realized I could no longer visit this violence upon myself. I would go home from the mountain with my whole self, for to deny the gift of my sexuality would mean not returning at all. 

Maybe you have come here, your heart seemingly torn in two, starting to intuit that your sexuality is a blessing, but unsure how or even why you should unhear the voice that calls it a curse. Or perhaps you are sometimes assailed by doubts that you’re really trying to listen to God and not just your own base desires. You’re not alone – I cannot say just how deep run the roots of my own mistrust of God – but I always return to the mountain.

Not all of us are given the opportunity to spend a year in retreat as I did, but every year the return of Lent beckons us to give up some of the time and attention that we usually spend elsewhere, leading us that place within where we learn that God is for us, that God acquits and does not condemn, that God gives us everything. We may be carrying about with us the burden of a lifetime of being lied to, of believing we must prove ourselves worth of affection, but it is in fixing our eyes firmly on Jesus and coming to know ourselves as beloved that we will find ourselves entirely free, and fully alive.