A reflection on the Sunday readings for February 26, 2021 — the Second Sunday in Lent
There are things we know, there are things we don’t know, and then there is the unknown. The things we know help us to manage life. The things we do not know, we try to learn and master. But the unknown is what unnerves us. The unknown when someone loses their job, the unknown when divorce hits a family, the unknown when someone loses their spouse, the unknown when someone awaits a transplant, the unknown when someone is deployed, the unknown when someone we know battles addiction, the unknown when someone is diagnosed with terminal illness, the unknown when someone goes missing – these unknowns take a heavy toll.
I am approaching the scripture readings for the second Sunday of Lent it from the perspective of the unknown. In today’s first reading, Abraham was called to embrace the unknown – go to an unknown land, accept an unknown future without a progeny, and when he did have a child, embrace the unknown in the offering his son as a sacrifice. Jesus too embraces the unknown. His baptism and his transfiguration made known and affirmed his identity. He was the “Beloved Son.” But after his baptism he went into the desert, into the unknown. Similarly, after his transfiguration he went down the mountain, into the unknown. Most of all, on the cross he embraced death – the absolute unknown. But both Abraham and Jesus introduce us to a new dimension of the Christian journey – the ‘known unknown.’
Here are three thoughts for today:
God Embraces Our Unknown
In being called to sacrifice his son, the very son through whom God’s promise of a great nations was to be accomplished, Abraham was pushed to the brink of the unknown. It is very possible that we ask the question, how could God ask Abraham to make such a demanding sacrifice? Who asks someone to sacrifice their child? For those of us who know the whole story, God did not ask Abraham what God would not himself do for us. Abraham’s son was spared that day, but God did not spare his own Son.
The story of the incarnation is the story of God both entering and embracing our humanity. It tells us that God entered and embraced our life in its totality. God entered the depths of human life, including the unknown. In entering the desert, in experiencing pain and suffering, in embracing death, in navigating through the unknown, God embraced humanity to its fullest extent possible. If there is anyone reading this who is struggling with the unknown, please be consoled that God is not someone who does not understand our struggles with the unknown.
Faith: The Antidote to Fear of the Unknown
Today’s scripture readings give us the right way to manage the unknown. Managing the unknown calls for a very specific kind of faith. We see this kind of faith in Abraham and in Jesus. Faith in this context is believing that where I dread to go, God is already there. Abraham, for example, had no idea that ultimately his son would be spared. When he got to the mountain to carry out God’s command, God was already there. Similarly, the followers of Jesus had hardly any idea what awaited him as he neared his end. Jesus even felt abandoned on the cross. Yet, we know that God was already there in the empty tomb where he was placed. The best way to counter the paralyzing fear of the unknown is to have the absolute confidence that no matter what awaits me, God is already there. It means to believe that I don’t have to look for God where I am going, but that God will find me there.
Faith: The known Unknown
It is a reality of the human condition that often our unknowns remain in the realm of the unknown. These days, I have been in greater interaction with the immigrant community. When they leave their homes hoping for a better future, they step into the unknown.
For many of them, the unknown remains unknown. Many of them do not make it. Not just immigrants, but every death releases us into the unknown. For us Christians, though, when we face the absolute known, our faith in Christ comes to our aid. As St. Paul says in today’s second reading, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?” (Rom 8:31b-32).
God spared Abraham’s son, but God did not spare God’s own son because God wanted us to lead us into eternity—the ‘known unknown.’ By this I mean that even though we do not know everything about eternity, we know for certain that eternity is ours. Paul expressed this in these words: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 8:38-39).
All our unknowns culminate in Jesus Christ. As Paul says, “In all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us” (Rom 8:37). In other words, whereas there are many unknowns in our life, there is one thing we know for sure—that the love of God in Jesus Christ saves us from the eternal unknown. God’s love conquers our every unknown.
Let me conclude with the Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila:
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
By Giovanni Bellini – 1. Oceansbridge2. The Bridgeman Art Library, Object 112975, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20806008