Abraham – What must I leave behind, what take with me?

2nd Sunday of Lent A, St. Eugenia

Gen 12:1-5

Now the LORD said to Abram, ”Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan.

What would you answer if the Lord appeared to you saying: “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you”? In fact most of us have left their home countries and went to another land, to Sweden. And there may be some of you who have not chosen to leave your country. Some have perhaps been forced by political or economic circumstances. Some have got to know a partner who they wanted to follow to a foreign country. Today, there are so many, who, by choice or no choice, have emigrated. I don’t know if there are some who have understood this journey as a call of the Lord.

Abraham received this call. He should go, leave his home country and did not know where this journey would lead him. He only trusted in God. He trusted that God would make real a great promise: “You will be a blessing.” For this Abraham is justly called the father of all faithful because he obeyed the Lord.

It is not by accident that we think of him during Lent as we prepare for Easter, when we want to be renewed and strengthened in our faith; in the faith that God will make real His promises, that He is the truth, the God in whom we can trust. Abraham was confronted with two questions, questions we can pose ourselves: What do I have to leave behind? What can I take with me? These two questions are in fact actual every time I have to move. They sound easy but demand a lot.

What do I have to leave behind? To leave my home country was really a challenge. I had to leave behind my family and friends, the region I’ve known for so many years, my language – all these things I’m familiar with and which make me feel at home. Yes, it’s an important part of my personal history that is connected to the land I’ve been born and grew up in. And for most people it is hard to leave all these behind. But God is calling Abraham not to afflict him. He doesn’t wish Abraham’s bad fortune. It is in contrast, the promise for something greater which motivates God to ask him to leave.

And this same promise is the motivation for Lent too. During this time, we are also called to leave something behind. There are perhaps customs I have become fond of but which in the long run remove me from God and the life He is giving. There might even be people I have to leave; people who have a bad influence on me, bad company. And when I stay, when I’m not willing to leave the customs and the bad company they will damage my soul and my body.

Yes, it’s hard to leave things behind I’m so familiar with. And why should I when I feel good? It is mans’ natural desire to be happy. This is not to judge, but sometimes we confuse or fail to differentiate between a current fortune with the more fundamental one that will make us happy or blessed in the long run. And this is the promise God has given us: life and life in abundance. What could it then be that I must leave behind to receive this life?

Abraham does not leave his home country with empty hands. He took his wife Sarah with him, his brother’s son Lot and the possessions he gathered. I imagine that he – as we do when we pack our bags – had his difficulties to decide what he should take with him. The meaning of Lent is also to appreciate in thankfulness all these things which I may take with me, which belong to me. My baggage is not only composed of negative things but also good and positive things. Lent questions, in this sense, might also be: What do I do with these treasures? How can I invest them, so they become more? Can I use them for the progress of others too, thus, to invest them not for egoistic reasons but in a spirit of service? What can I share? What is worth developing further?

The perspective of Abraham’s departure was God’s promise: land, a great nation and name. The perspective of Lent is still a greater promise: life, yes eternal life in Christ. This aim is worthy of our departure. So, what should you leave behind? What should you take with you? The Lord is asking us today as he asked Abraham then. And if we try to answer His question, we might also find a meaning to our involuntary emigration.

Dominik Terstriep SJ


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