In this second week of Lent, we continue to hear the Word of God from the book of Genesis, and Genesis 12 is a story of new beginnings.
In this short chapter, we meet Abraham, who will become in subsequent pages, the father of a large nation. But here, one only sees the uncertain beginnings of a family who find themselves at the threshold of a new tomorrow. This short passage begins with God’s command to Abraham to go from his country, from his family, from his father’s house to the land that God will show him. This divine command implies leaving all that is familiar behind to face an uncertain future.
The call to Abraham though does not come alone. It is important to note that God’s command is accompanied with a fivefold promise presented in five 1st person statements: God says:
· I will make of you a great nation,
· I will bless you,
· I will magnify your name,
· I will bless those who bless you and
· I will curse those who curse you.
But, what's with all this "blessing?" The Hebrew word for bless is berak, it means to bless or to kneel. Blessing, in Hebrew, is to bring a gift to another while kneeling out of respect; to do or give something of value to another. So not only will Abraham be given something of value (a blessing) he will also, while showing and living and kneeling in respect to God, give to all the people of the earth, a gift. Further, God says in no unclear terms that there is a future waiting for Abraham and Sarah. And God is making some big promises: land to a landless people and offspring to a barren couple.
The story of Abraham and Sarah’s family is perfused with work. Their work encompasses nearly every facet of the work of seminomadic peoples in the ancient Near East. At every point, they face crucial questions about how to live and work in faithful observance of God’s covenant. They struggle to make a living, endure social upheaval, raise children in safety, and remain faithful to God amid a broken world, much as we do today. They find that God is faithful to his promise to bless them in all circumstances, although they themselves prove faithless again and again.
But the purpose of God’s covenant is not merely to bless Abraham’s family in a hostile world. Instead, he intends to bless the whole world through these people. This task is beyond the abilities of Abraham’s family, who fall again and again into pride, self-centeredness, foolhardiness, anger, and every other malady to which fallen people are apt. We recognize ourselves in them in this aspect too … despite our best efforts, even the best amongst us falls from time to time. Yet by God’s grace, they retain a core of faithfulness to the covenant, and God works through the work of these people, beset with faults, to bring unimaginable blessings to the world. Much like them, our work also brings blessings to those around us because in our work we participate in God’s work in the world. Through Abraham and Sarah all the families of the earth shall be blessed. They will have an impact on people everywhere.
Genesis 12 speaks a powerful word for us too today, certainly in those instances when we are called to leave all that is known behind; to relinquish all our comforts and securities; to follow God with closed eyes; to depart on a journey without a map. And much like Abraham and Sarah, our lifestyles will have an impact on people everywhere, today and in future generations.
This Lent we have been trying our best to focus on how to better care for our planet, to leave the earth enjoyable for future generations. Much like Abraham and Sarah, our little individual families, and all of our families collectively will have an impact on people everywhere in the ways that we care for the earth. And while we surely do not have all the answers, the time has come to have the conversation, to raise awareness, to develop a plan to try and restore the earth to its original beauty and resourcefulness.
The hard part is that some of what we are called to do will challenge us to think in a new way, to act differently, and to step away from some of our comforts, conveniences, and casualness with respect to how every one of our actions has consequences today and for tomorrow.
This week’s focus, responding to the cry of the poor, challenges us to work together to protect those most vulnerable to climate change and ecological injustice. Worldwide, under-resourced communities—migrants, refugees, Indigenous Tribes, communities of color—shoulder the worst impacts of environmental degradation. And our actions are connected to this human suffering.
As Pope Francis teaches, Creator and Creation are “interconnected.” Yet, our climate crisis is a direct result of our severed connections with Creator, Creation and one another. Powerful countries (those with the highest carbon emissions) have prioritized consumption and convenience, treating Earth and its people as resources for extraction. But it is the powerless—low-income nations, communities of color, Tribal Nations, women, children and senior citizens—who suffer the consequences. This crisis stems from decisions in desolation—choices aligned with the desires of a few rather than all. The Pope said that in turning away from Creation, we seemingly have turned away from God, too.
· How can we re-direct our focus away from only our individual concerns and expand our capacity for love?
· Who do we see as our neighbor?
· How are our choices connected to the injustices experienced by communities worldwide?
Yeb Saño, a member of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, discusses the urgency of the climate crisis, and how it is rooted in three human characteristics beginning with the letter ‘A’. He writes:
The first word is arrogance. Arrogance is the belief that we're better than God or better than nature, that we’re smarter than nature - and that has caused a lot of havoc in the world.
The second word is apathy. Apathy is the dangerous belief that it’s somebody else’s job to care, it’s somebody else's job to take care of others or take care of the environment.
And the third one is avarice, which is extreme greed. Greed has made this world a much, much worse place to live in. Greed is what drives, for example, corporations to only think about profits and not the people and the planet.
These are three words that “we as Catholics strive to stand up against”, three forms of a lack of love: “the love that Pope Francis reminds us to embrace as a commandment from God and as an example from the life of Jesus”.
In Matthew’s Gospel today we hear that Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.
Rather than being people of arrogance, apathy and avarice, the Gospel calls us to be people who are interested, invested and informed because only then will we, like Peter, James and John be transformed to continue to experience the blessings of the sun and the moon and all of creation as God would have us enjoy them, and to preserve it for future generations too.
This journey of better caring for creation may be long, sometimes much longer than one may have thought. It is a journey with many ups and downs, many joys and sorrows. But it is a journey filled with many, many promises — the most important being the promise of God’s presence to show us the way.
This Lent, take some time to learn more about what we can all do in this regard, for ourselves and those who come after us.