Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent
When Abram prostrated himself, God spoke to him:
"My covenant with you is this:
you are to become the father of a host of nations.
No longer shall you be called Abram;
your name shall be Abraham,
for I am making you the father of a host of nations.
Abraham appears often in the New Testament. During Lent we should reflect on his importance to the Gospel and to us.
In today's gospel Jesus' opponents are the first to mention him, and they make a shocking statement about him, he is dead! In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus insists that Abraham is living: "... concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
The Jews of Saint John's gospel (who are emphatically not today's Jews!), by insisting that Abraham is dead, uproot their own tradition. If Abraham is dead so is God! That makes no sense.
People often make idiotic statements when they're trying to win an argument, especially when their losing. As the wit said, "I can't always agree with what you say. But then I can't always agree with what I say!"
Pressing his opponents further, Jesus insists that he is true to his Father's word, that his opponents are unfaithful, and finally that, "Abraham rejoiced to see my day."
On one level we remember Abraham's joy when Isaac, the child of the promise, was born. On a deeper level, Jesus is The Child of the Promise -- Isaac is only a forebear, a type of the promised one -- and Abraham rejoiced when the Word was given to him, the Word which would become flesh in Jesus.
So when Jesus declares, "Abraham your father rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad." he states in no uncertain terms that he is the Promised One.
Invoking the Patriarch Abraham and insisting upon his everlasting life serves two purposes. First, it grounds the Christian revelation in the ancient Jewish tradition. The first Christian missionaries did not suppose they were starting a new religion as they travelled from one synagogue to another, announcing the Resurrection throughout the Roman Empire. They firmly believed Jesus had fulfilled the Promises of God, promises which were remembered and treasured by the Jewish people. Only descendants of Abraham, the heirs of the promise, could understand Jesus.
But as the Jewish religion, with its many quarrelsome sects, was pulled apart by the Christian revelation, and as huge crowds of gentiles joined the Church, it became two separate religions. Christians believe Abraham is the patriarch of faith; he saw and hailed the Messiah from afar. They grieved that Jews sheared away from their Messiah and the Church.
Abraham represents the refounding of faith on a firmer foundation, on the rock who is Christ. Invoking his name, the Church revisits the entire "old covenant," to reinterpret the stories, songs, law and prophecies and see them fulfilled in the "new covenant." Shadows of doubt and misgivings about YHWH are overcome by the Light of Christ. Is the "Old Testament God" cruel, vengeful and arbitrary? Not at all! He is patient and merciful; we see that clearly in His Son, who is the perfect image of the Father.
If Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation in the old covenant, he became "the father of a host of nations" as people of many nations, languages, cultures and uncounted centuries stream into the church. He still rejoices to see the Day of the Lord.