Thursday March 17, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifth Week of Lent
Reading (Genesis 17:3-9) Gospel (St. John 8:51-59)
In the first reading today, we hear about God making this covenant with Abraham. In this covenant, Abraham is to become the father of a host of nations, and God, on the other hand, tells Abraham of the various promises that the Lord would make, that He would be their God, that He would make Abraham exceedingly fertile, that He would give him this land, and so on. First of all, it helps us to be able to see what a covenant is. A covenant is an agreement between God and His people, and every covenant has three elements: it is permanent, it is faithful, and it is life-giving. So God is making a promise that this will be for all generations that will come after Abraham. And God is telling Abraham that He Himself is going to be entirely faithful to what He Himself has promised and that He is going to make Abraham exceedingly fertile. It is life-giving. Abraham, on the other hand, is required to keep the covenant, to keep the Word of God, to be obedient to the things that the Lord has spoken.
When Jesus in the Gospel says that He Himself keeps the Word of God, the people get upset. They accuse Him of being possessed. They talk to Him as though there is something entirely wrong with Him, twisting His words to make it appear that He is claiming that He Himself saw Abraham, when in fact what He said was Abraham saw My day and rejoiced. They twisted it around, but even with the twisting Jesus was able to show Himself to be God. Before Abraham came to be, I AM, the Lord says. He is telling us very clearly and the people understood, which is why they picked up rocks to throw at Him. They understood very clearly that He was making Himself God.
And so Our Lord comes into this world and shows us that the covenant with Abraham is still in force, but that the people are not living according to the covenant. Then He becomes the New Covenant, which has the same exact principles. It is permanent, faithful, and life-giving. This time it is about everlasting life, not just to have children and become exceedingly fertile, but those members of this New Covenant are able to live forever, to be able to be with God for eternity. But, of course, the same thing has to be there – we have to be obedient to His Word.
Our Lord came into this world to tell the Jewish people that they were not being obedient to their covenant. Now we have to ask ourselves, “Are we any better? Are we any different? Are we being obedient to the covenant that God has made with us, that is, the covenant Who is Jesus Christ? Are we obedient to Christ?” If we are not, then what will happen is that we will come up with all kinds of rationalizations like these people who were talking to Jesus. They have all kinds of head knowledge, but they do not want to do the Will of God. They do not want to listen to His Word, but as long as they can convince themselves that all they need is to be able to say, “Abraham is our father; we have all the promises,” then that is all that is necessary.” And it was true. They were children of Abraham and they had all the promises, but they forgot the second half of the covenant. God makes promises on one side and requirements on the other, and His requirement for the people was that they had to be obedient to His Word. His Word is Jesus Christ, and we have to be obedient to Jesus Christ. It is, again, exactly what Our Lord has told us, that we are His disciples if we keep His Word, that if we are going to be able to live according to this covenant we have to live the life of Christ, which is to keep the Word of God. That is our call.
God is faithful to His covenant. He is completely faithful. Saint Paul even points that out again in Timothy: He remains faithful; but if we deny Him, He will deny us. But He will always remain faithful, Saint Paul says, because He cannot deny Himself. So this covenant is permanent. God is faithful, and He is promising everlasting life with one stipulation: that we listen to the Word of God, Jesus Christ, and keep it.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.