Sunday, March 04, 2007

2nd Sunday of Lent 2007: Covenant

Text: “Taking Abram outside the Lord said, ‘Look up to heaven and count the stars if you an. Such will be your descendants’ he told him. Abram put his faith in the Lord, who counted this as making him justified. ‘I am the Lord’ he said to him’ who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldaeans to make you heir to this land.’ ‘My Lord, the Lord Abram replied ‘how am I to know that I shall inherit it? He said to him, ‘Get me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon. He brought him all of these, cut them in half and put half on one side and half facing it on the other,; but the birds he did not cut in half. Birds of prey came down on the carcasses but Abram drove them off.
“Now as the sun was setting Abram fell into a deep sleep and terror seized him. When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, there appeared a smoking furnace and a firebrand that went between the halves. That day the Lord made a Covenant with Abram in these terms:
“To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River” (Gen. 15, 5-12. 17-18).

Exegesis of Benedict XVI:

“Here… begins that covenant, that testament from God, which is to have its continuation in Moses and will find its definitive embodiment in Christ. The concluding of the pact is carried out in the forms usual to peoples having no script as yet, and here we find precisely the surest type of contract for guaranteeing fidelity and security. Two animals are divided into two and the contracting party passes in between the two halves. This action was a risky undertaking because it expressed an obligation which was final and irrevocable, bringing a kind of curse on oneself in the case of breaking the pact, and consequently a binding of one’s life and fortune by giving ones’ word. The action ways: the fate of these animals divided in two will be mine if I am not faithful to my word: like these animals I will be cut in pieces should I be unfaithful. The man doing this is saying that he is prepared to give his life for his word, he unties his life to his word which thus becomes his destiny, of higher value than mere biological life. By doing this Abraham believes, he entrusts his life to the words of this contract, entrusts his life, irrevocably, to the promise of the covenant. The promise becomes the span of his life, and with his readiness to give his life for his promise, the Patriarch initiates the confessions of the martyrs, recognizing the unattainable greatness of God, of truth. Faith is worthy also of suffering. Faith is worthy of a commitment of life until death. To believe means to stake one’s life on the word of God; to unite one’s life and fate to that word,; to be prepared to sacrifice one’s standing, to deny oneself any right over oneself and one’s time, for the word of God.

"In affirming this truth we have interpreted only the more obvious part of the text; there comes now a more obscure aspect and one which is more important. The tet says that, when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abraham; the word used here for a deep sleep is the same word employed in the creation story, when God created the woman from Adam’s rib while he was asleep. This word tardema gives the meaning of a sleep out of the ordinary, a becoming deaf to all surrounding, everyday things; a dropping down through the levels of being, and reaching that depth where one arrives at the ground of being, touches the ultimate center of reality – God. At this mysterious depth Abraham sees something strange and stirring: something like a furnace and a blazing torch passing between the halves of the animals. Furnace and fire are representations of the mystery of the invisible God. The furnace and the torch are in reality fire subdued and at the same time dangerous. Thus is expressed the inexpressible mystery of God which is at the same time order, discipline, and supreme power. The representation of God, his mysterious presence, passes between the halves of the animals. This says to us: God too follows the rite of promise, he too stakes his life and his fullness on this covenant; he too will claim to be prepared to give his life for this covenant; he too engages himself and his life to cement irrevocable loyalty to the covenant. At first sight, from a philosophical standpoint, this fact seems simply absurd: how could God suffer, die, bind his fate to the covenant with mankind, with Abraham? The bleeding head, crowned with a wreath of thorns, the crucified Lord, is the answer. The Son of God has borne the curse of the broken promise of the children of Abraham. Thus the unthinkable and the unimaginable is realized: for God, mankind is so important as to be worthy of his own passion. God offers the price of his fidelity in the incarnate Son, who gives his own life. He accepts to be cut to pieces, to be slain like those animals, when in the final passion of Good Friday the body of the Son will be snatched away from the hand of God and given into the hands of death. God takes mankind seriously – he joins himself in a covenant with them, and in the Holy Eucharist, fruit of the Cross, gives his life into our hands, day after day.

“In Abraham’s vision, at the very beginning of the covenant with the Chosen People, the first Station of the Cross is already erected. This is, under the veil of mystery, a first vision of the suffering God, the crucified God; in images hardly emerged from paganism is expressed the mystery of faith. Abraham’s enigmatic vision is reality thrown open to us in the sign of the Cross. With this image the voice of God knocks today at the door of our heart, ad the text from the Old Testament expressed none other than the voice of God in the New Testament: ‘This is my son, my chosen; listen to him”

“God’s faithfulness unto death is in search of our faithfulness. The word of God is very important in our private life. Such supremacy of the word of God does not apply only to red martyrdom. God’s message, which stakes his life on the covenant with us, is a message for everyday life: in the little things, in the patience of faith every day, is realized the way of faithfulness; and so, fixing our eyes on the blood of Christ, we convert ourselves always more and more to his love (cr. First Letter of Clement 7, 4).

[2]Take note that the Covenant with Abraham was to have a universal, global dimension as numerous as the stars in the heavens and the sand of the seashore. However, the Covenant with Moses on Sinai was limited to the Jews. It gave Israel a “legal and cultic order… that as such cannot simply be extended to all nations.”[1] This limitation of the Torah of Sinai is corrected in the Torah of the Messiah that is the Person of Jesus Christ Himself who is the revelation of both God and man himself. This is the reason that the Covenant of Abraham continues to be valid for all time as salvational. It is fulfilled, not abrogated in Jesus Christ in whom its promises reach completion. Benedict says: “Thus the Sinai covenant is indeed superseded. But once what was provisional in it has been swept away, we see what is truly definitive in it. So the expectation of the New Covenant, which becomes clearer and clearer as the history of Israel unfolds, does not conflict with the Sinai covenant; rather, it fulfills the dynamic expectation found in that very covenant. From the perspective of Jesus, the `Law and the Prophets’ are not in opposition: Moses himself – as Deuteronomy tells us – is a prophet and can only be understood correctly if he is read a such.”

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Many Religions – One Covenant,” Ignatius (1999) 68-69.
[2] Ibid 70-71.

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