God said to Abram, “I’ve got a great plan for you.” Abram replied, “What is it? Are you going to bless me with a son?” God said, “Actually, I want you to leave your land, your relatives, and your home, and go live in a different country as a foreigner for the rest of your life.” Abram replied, “Okay!?” God said, “Trust me. This will be really good for you and for the world.”
The Lord told Abraham, “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.” (Gen. 12:2-3) God blessed Abraham so that he would be a blessing for the world. Likewise, God has a plan to bless you and me so that we will be a blessing to the world. Is that how you see your life? Do you see yourself being blessed by God – even in suffering – so that you will become a blessing for the world around you?
God used Abraham and Sarah in a way that was beyond their wildest dreams. But for much of their life, their situation looked more like a curse than a blessing. In the Hebrew culture, to receive God’s blessing meant to have land, riches, children, and health. However, God asked Abraham to leave his land. He asked him to live as a foreigner in Canaan with no rights to own land. He went to settle in a land that would never be his own. Also, he had no children. Without a son, his wealth would go to someone else. So his situation looked like a curse, yet he left his land and his home and trusted that God would bless him. He believed in the blessing of God even if it looked like a curse.
So to walk like Abraham is to trust in God even when it makes no sense. Abraham and Sarah never saw God’s promise fulfilled. They finally had a son Isaac who had twin sons Esau and Jacob. It was Jacob who became the father of the twelve tribes. But Abraham and Sarah never saw any of those grandchildren. They were blessed with one son which was an amazing gift. But mostly they were a blessing for others.
We are called to the same journey of faith. God asks us to believe that he will bless us and make us a blessing for others. Do you see yourself being blessed by God – even in suffering – so that you will become a blessing for the world around you?
Trusting in God should be easier for us than it was for Abraham and Sarah because we see how everything worked out for them. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all lived as foreigners and nomads. When famine struck the land, Jacob went to Egypt with his sons and grandchildren, where their ancestors lived as foreigners for another 430 years. During all those four centuries, Abraham’s faith inspired the whole family. His example of faith inspired them to trust in God’s blessing, even though they were foreigners who had no rights neither in Canaan nor in Egypt. God made him a great nation, and he became a blessing for others. But it was a tough painstaking journey marked by famine, slavery, suffering and death.
Faith should be easier for us because we know the full story of how God blessed the people of Israel, despite centuries of struggle. In addition to knowing Abraham’s story, we’ve been given a vision of Jesus’ glory. These biblical stories are not just lessons from the past; they are our stories. We will get the most benefit from them by imaging ourselves in the scene, and by entering into the same experience.
So imagine yourself with Jesus as he took Peter, James and John up a mountain and his face “shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.” (Mt. 17:2) Immediately before this, Jesus had warned the disciples about his passion, death and resurrection. This mountain top experience filled them with new hope that no matter what happened to Jesus, God would lead him into his glorious light.
Eventually, the disciples realized that the same was true for them. If they remained faithful, then they would be transformed by the Lord’s glory. Earlier Jesus told them, “The just will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Mt. 13:43) Similarly, St. Paul said to the first Christians, “I consider that the sufferings of the present time are not to be compared with the future glory that is to be revealed in us.” (Rom. 8:18)
As we see Jesus’ face shining like the sun, it strengthens our faith that the sufferings of the present time are nothing compared with the future glory that is to be revealed in us. St. Paul went on to declare that all creation will be “set free from slavery to corruption and share in the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21)
Years ago, I visited an elderly couple who were both suffering from illnesses. The wife had survived a bout with cancer. The chemotherapy racked her body, and she never fully regained her health. When I visited them, she was sick again and the doctors were doing tests. Her husband said, “I don’t understand why she has to suffer like this. She has lived a good life. She has helped people. She’s been good to the Church and to God. I don’t understand why she has to bear this suffering.”
I didn’t understand it either; yet her suffering has meaning when you view it through the cross and resurrection. When people suffer with faith, they become a blessing to others. God works through them in a mysterious way. I remember how people in the parish were inspired by the faith of that couple. Their children and grandchildren were especially strengthened by their faith.
Even when your situation involves suffering or rejection, do you trust that God is with you to bless you? Even if you are a foreigner with no rights in this country, like Abraham and his ancestors, God is using you to be a blessing. God is using your suffering for his glory, if only you keep the faith. As you receive the Eucharist today, remember that how Jesus was brought to glory through the cross, and he shares his Risen Presence with us to bring us to glory through the cross.
Lent is a baptismal journey. It is a journey of being renewed in the Life of Christ. The only way to new life is through the cross. Ask for the grace to see how God has given you people who shined with his light because they suffered in faith. Thank God for how they were a blessing to you. Then ask the Lord to make you a blessing for the world. Ask for the grace to trust God even when it doesn’t make sense. By your faith, you will be a blessing to the world around you.