Abraham’s promises

Homily for the sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (C)

This morning, I want to talk about Abraham.  For many of us, perhaps, Abraham is like one of those distant relatives your grandmother mentions occasionally but you’re never quite sure how you’re related.  Fortunately, it’s easy to see how Abraham fits into the family tree.  He’s at the top—Abraham is the patriarch, the father of the Jewish people and also, according to the New Testament, the father of us all in faith.

Caravaggio, Sacrifice of Isaac, Uffizi Gallery, Florence

We find Abraham’s story in the book of Genesis.  He lives in that period in history after the fall, when the sin of Adam has left humanity existentially disoriented.  It’s the era of Cain and Abel, the Tower of Babel, Noah and the Flood—man is lost, and every turn he makes only worsens his desolation.  When I was in the Peace Corps, I was once heating a bucket of water with an electric coil, which was, shall we say, not up to OSHA standards.  And without noticing that the plastic safety handle around the coil had melted, I picked it up and gave myself a shock.  And in the moments after the shock, everything was fuzzy, and I couldn’t quite tell what had happened or what I was doing—so I picked it up and shocked myself again.  And that’s kind of what original sin did to mankind.

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Like a bush in a lava waste…

Craters of the Moon National Monument

Today’s first reading from Jeremiah brought to mind the surreal landscape of Craters of the Moon National Monument in central Idaho, which I visited on a long road trip through the American West several years ago.  It’s a surreal landscape of lava flows, ash, and shards of rock so sharp they’ll slice through your shoes if you wander off the trail.  

Jeremiah’s image of a “barren bush [that] stands in a lava waste” to describe those who trust in men and not in the Lord brought Craters of the Moon to mind.  I remember rounding a cinder cone, descending onto a river of hard rock, and thinking I’d wandered into Mordor.

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