A revelation and an expectation – Thursday, 5th Week of Lent – Genesis 17:3-9/ John 8:51-59
Abram was 75 years old when he left Haran (Genesis 12:4). He was 86 years old when the son Ishmael was born of Hagar, the servant girl (Genesis 16:15-16). He had waited some 25 years for the fulfilment of God’s promise to give a son through Sarai. It had been some 13 years since his last recorded word from God. That is a lot of trusting and a lot of patience. It is no wonder that ‘Abraham’ is called the father of faith.
Abram’s story began with his call. When God called Abram to leave his father’s house and go to a land that God would show him (12:1), God promised, “I will make of you a great nation. I will bless you and make your name great. You will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you. All of the families of the earth will be blessed in you” (12:2-3). The covenant in chapter 17, from which our first reading is taken, expands on that promise that God made earlier.
In chapter 17 God tells Abram what was expected of him. It was first revelation and then expectation. God reveals himself as El Shaddai (God Almighty). He then states his expectation, that Abram ‘walk before him’ and is blameless. The word blameless literally means “whole.” God wanted all of Abram, a total commitment.
God also reminded Abram that he had not forgotten the covenant he made with him. Though it had been some 25 years since the promise was first made, and though it may have seemed to Abram that God had forgotten his covenant, God didn’t forget anything. Abram was becoming a great man of faith, but you don’t make a great man of faith overnight. It takes years of God’s work in them, years of almost mundane trusting in God, perhaps interrupted with a few spectacular encounters with God.
Ironically, while God had made a covenant with Abram, his very name seemed like a cruel joke. Ab means “father.” Abram means ‘father of many’ and yet this was a hard name to bear for a man who was the father of none. So when God renews his covenant with Abram he changes his name to Abraham which means father of many nations; ‘ab-hamon’. It was almost crazy for a childless man to have such a name. We need to remember that, for the ancients, a name did not merely indicate a person or thing, rather it made a thing what it was, and a change of name meant a change of destiny. But God clearly had a promise for Abraham and Gods delays are not his denials.
In almost every dimension, God made the long-delayed promise to Abraham greater. Never before had God specifically said that multiple nations would come from Abraham (a singular nation was promised in Genesis 12:2). Never before had God specifically said that kings would descend from Abraham.
Abraham and his descendants are called to ratify this covenant, and on their part, they are to keep the covenant by their total allegiance to their one and only God. Abraham, as the Gospel indicates, is regarded as the father of all God’s people. As Matthew’s genealogy indicates, he is the ancestor of Jesus and in Jesus we find the complete fulfilment of the promises made long ago. We read in today’s Gospel, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to think that he would see my Day; he saw it and was glad.”
The covenant made between Abraham and God is both sealed and renewed in Jesus Christ. And through Jesus, people everywhere become, in a special way, children of God. Let us rejoice in having God as our Father and Jesus as our brother. We do so by the way we live our lives.