"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Abraham: Called, Chosen and Covenanted

omans 10:17 "So faith comes from hearing..." I start with this line because it speaks very much of the faith of Abraham which began by hearing God's call. 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." The call of Abram contains a promise that he will become father of all nations. If that first promise of God to Abraham is not clear and concrete enough the lines that follow is a much clearer and more concrete promise. God said, "I will render you exceedingly fertile; I will make nations of you; kings shall stem from you. The word fertile refers, indeed, to Israel. In the Bible it is often called “a land flowing with milk and honey,” indicating its abundant fertility. The phrase can be understood though as both physical and spiritual. For example, in the Book of Exodus (3:8), God promises to take the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to a “good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” The Hebrew word for Egypt is mitzrayim, which literally means “narrow places.” Canaan as a land of promise means the opposite, a land of freedom. On May 14 this year, the independent State of Israel celebrates 75 years of statehood. According to the Democratic Index, Israel is the only democratic republic in the Middle East. The Jews had found the promised land flowing with milk and honey only 75 years ago in 1948. Maybe it is too short compared to the 2,000 years of their stateless wandering but, nonetheless, it is a fulfillment of an age-old covenant between God and Abraham who is known through the ages as the Father of Faith, the Father of Believers. But the struggle continues particularly among the Jews, Christians and Muslims. The Jews and Christians do not have the monopoly of the promises made to Abraham, Muslims too are among the nations that Abraham fathered. Today the little State of Israel is a harbinger of springtime not only to the neighboring countries but to the whole world in the field of science and technology. They are very successful in the use of limited natural resources, especially fresh water. Israel is very self-sustainable. Not only does it produce most of its own food, it also exports many food products.

Secondly, the detail about the name-change from ‘Abram’ to ‘Abraham’. The change is probably no more than from one dialect to another, but the imposition of a name is an act of choosing, owning, marking Abraham as God’s possession. In almost all cultures a father imposes a name, to tell the world "This is mine." The Jewish people takes so much pride in being God's chosen people. Take note it is not the people who chose God but it is God who made the choice of them, a very jealous God who said the last words of the promise, "and I will be their God.”

Third and last, Abraham is committed or covenanted. This is where one should be very careful and wary in the spiritual journey after God has already spoken and chosen. Watch out for discouragements it is the weapon of the enemy, the deceiver. Whenever I guide my 30-day retreatants, I look forward to the scripture passage about the testing of Abraham's faith on the mountain when he was about to be discouraged. Remember when father and son were walking together, a very old loving father and his very young son, Isaac. I guide my retreatant to imagine how hard it must have been for Abraham to carry the burning torch in one hand and the knife in another. It was a perfect moment for Abraham to be discouraged and he had all the valid reasons to oppose God. How can God ask a father to kill his beloved son? When we are faced with something like this, it is good to stop, look and listen. St Ignatius of Loyola calls it discernment of spirits. We must be quick to move away from discouragements. The root of every discouragement is a lie, a deception. God being the way, the truth and the life will never discourage us. There maybe are tests along the way but he will not discourage for that is not God's nature. Mother Teresa has this famous quote, "God allows the failure but He does not want the discouragement."

Abraham went up that mountain in the brink of being discouraged but lo and behold he came down having snatched the victory from the jaws of discouragement. Eid 'al 'Adha,' Festival of the Sacrifice, is one of the two official holidays celebrated within Islam, and holier than Eid al-Fitr. It is because of this moment of faith that Abraham is revered by the three great monotheistic religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. But let us not think that he did it all by himself. I would like to go back to where I started. Romans 10:17 "So faith comes from hearing..." It is not the complete verse. The whole verse 17 reads "So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ." Abraham being called, chosen and covenanted are all Jesus Christ's calling, choosing and committing. John's gospel picks this up. Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I AM.” The Jews who could not fathom the length, width, height, depth and breadth of who Jesus picked up stones to throw at him. To this day even if some among the chosen ones did not accept Jesus as the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, the whole earth contniues to flow with milk and honey through the propagation of the faith that Abraham first received. There is someone greater than Solomon or Jonah or Abraham here. Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ