Are you willing to risk everything for love?
This may sound like the refrain of a Celine Dion song, but instead it is the question that confronts us in the readings from this Sunday of Lent .
First it eats at us in the bizarre tale of God asking the biblical hero Abraham to sacrifice his son and heir Isaac. Of course, God stops him at the last minute, but you have to wonder what’s up with this story. Some scholars see in it an ancient parable against child sacrifice (message: we think this is what God wants, but it isn’t really). Others say it’s symbolic of an initiation ritual�boys being made into men, undergoing an ordeal, close to pain and death, to prove their strength, endurance, and obedience. As Isaac undergoes it with his father, Abraham undergoes it with God.
Weird as the story sounds to our ears, God’s words honoring good old Abe may still echo in our ears: “Because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, I will bless you abundantly.” His love for and loyalty to God knew no bounds. What are we willing to risk for love?
The comparison to God’s love in sending his son Jesus is inevitable, and we find it expressed by St. Paul in the second reading. Does this mean a kind of “giant divine child sacrifice” was necessary to appease God? It may be better to look on Jesus’ death as the penalty he willingly paid for his prophetic stance of love without limits. He was ready to risk everything for love.
This comes out in the Gospel theophany, or manifestation of God, where Jesus is transfigured (that is, changed in appearance) while Moses and Elijiah appear having a nice chat with him. God’s voice is heard. As often happens when presented with pure Mystery, the human beings present are stupified and find themselves saying ridiculous things. The Gospel of Mark says, “Peter did not know what he was saying.” And really, that’s about it�most of us really don’t know what we’re saying when Divine Mystery crashes down on us in unexpected wonder and beauty. Whether this occur on a quiet beach or in the intimacy of love, most of us are quite overcome.
Yet Peter wants the glory of love without having to suffer, the miracle of life without death, and Jesus has to teach him that there ain’t no such thing. This is the human condition, who can say why? As God instructs the disciples to “Listen to him,” Jesus begins the next lesson about what he must suffer to rise. They don’t get it. Who wants to? If most of us realized what we would have to go through for the choices we make in life, we would run screaming in the other direction.
Yet many times people do choose with their eyes open. What are we willing to risk for love�love for our friends, our significant others, our friends, neighbors, strangers, even a healthy love for ourselves? Are we willing to make sacrifices, to leave our comfort zones? Do we even recall that it is noble�and the sign of a mature person�to make sacrifices for love?
Lately I’ve heard people tell stories of quitting dream jobs becaues the hours took them away from the people that were really important to them. I talked to a woman who went against everything she thought she understood about life to believe in the possibility of forgiveness. I visited a community where people live simply along with the homeless and those who have nothing.
Hearing about these choices that people make remind us that love isn’t something abstract. It’s something people do because they believe in it.