Today we read of the covenant that God establishes with Abraham, and hear how He gives him a new name. Instead of being Abram, he will henceforth be Abraham.
It is worth noting that Abraham was already ninety-nine years old when this occurred. We may sometimes become impatient or discouraged when it seems as if we are not making progress in our lives, or when we can’t work out what God is doing with us. Yet we should be comforted by the example of Abraham, who waited ninety-nine years for God to reveal His promise to him. Saint John Chrysostom writes,
When God saw that he had been purified like gold in a furnace for a long period of time and had rendered the just man’s virtue more conspicuous and resplendent, Scripture says, ‘When Abram was ninety-nine years old, God appeared to him again.’ Why did God delay so long? Not simply that we should get to know the just man’s endurance and his great virtue, but for us to see as well the extraordinary degree of His power. You see, when nature lost its potency and was now useless for childbearing, his body being wasted and chilled with old age, God put into effect the promise to demonstrate His peculiar power.
By making this covenant with Abraham, God promises to be with him and his descendants forever. These descendants include us, for we believe that in the Church we become heirs of Abraham’s faith and of the promises that God made to him. As Saint Ambrose of Milan writes,
Abraham is made into nations, that is to say, his faith is transferred to the nations and to kings of the world, who have become believers, submitting to the authority of the Lord Jesus … the figure of Abraham clearly conveys the mystery of the church, which through the inheritance of faith takes possession of the whole world. Well is he called ‘chosen father of the sound,’ father of faith, father of the pious confession.
A Reading from the Book of Genesis 17:1-9:
When Abram was ninety-nine years old the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will multiply you exceedingly.” Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come forth from you. And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. And I will give to you, and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”