2nd SUNDAY OF LENT (B) February 28, 2021
Gen. 22: 1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Rom. 8: 31b-34; Mark 9: 2-10
By Jude Siciliano, OP
We cannot ignore today’s first reading from Genesis. For parents and the rest of us for that matter, it is a horror story. God asks a father to offer his only son in sacrifice. The opening line sets the grim scene: “God put Abraham to the test.” Even though God did not really want Abraham to kill his son – it was a “test” – still the story sends chills down our spines. What kind of God would ask a parent to do such a thing? And, is this the God I want to worship and give my life to? If so, what kind of sacrifice will be asked of me? We look for possible explanations for this stark story.
Bible teaches explain the story as a rejection of the Canaanite practice of human sacrifice. For their part, faithful Jews have said that God already knew the fidelity of Abraham and was giving him an opportunity to express his potential for goodness and devotion. If Abraham did sacrifice his son Isaac he would have given up all hope for his future. After all, God had promised that he would be the father of descendants as numerous as the stars (Genesis 15:1- 6). Or, to put it another way, if Abraham sacrificed his son, his hope for the future would be completely in God’s hands. Jews call this story the “binding of Isaac,” it is also a metaphor for all the suffering Jews have had to endure because of their faith in God and observance of the Law.
Not a very comfortable, or tame God is it? This is the God who invites us into a relationship and strengthens us to respond with faith and trust to what is asked of us. It is very hard to live with questions and to let God be God. Abraham’s God is not easily contained, or tamed by our attempts to reduce God to a more manageable size. The Genesis text today is uncompromising. What we get is Abraham – who is unwavering and unquestioning as he sets out to do what God told him. He doesn’t ask how God will fulfill a covenant, while taking away the very child who was the sign and future fulfillment of that covenant. One of the questions put to the community in this story: Is God trustworthy when there is not concrete evidence to prove it and when any sign of reassurance we thought we had is taken away?
You have to admire the boldness of the author who put this story in the narrative and the biblical editors who placed Genesis, with this story intact, at the beginning of the Bible. From the beginning believers are asked if we want to worship a God of mystery; a God who is outside any little box we might want to put God into. Previously Abraham had failed at crucial moments to trust God. Still, God did not give up on him. Now Abraham can’t fudge – will he trust God despite the catastrophic demand being placed on him?
Christians see the son’s obedience to his father Abraham (read the full story in Genesis 22) as a reflection of Jesus’ willingness to accept death for our salvation. Paul underlines God’s generosity when he reflects on Jesus’ death as a sign of how far God would go to prove God’s love for us. God does not hold for back for us even what is most precious to God.
The gospel account of the Transfiguration shines further light on Jesus and his relationship to the Father. Jesus is uniquely God’s son. He died on the cross to prove something to us, not at God’s hands, but at the hands of sinful people. Jesus embodied God’s love and his death revealed just how far God would go to show us that love. He was executed because he was faithful and obedient to the mission God gave him. He would not stop proclaiming God’s love for sinners and outcasts, even at the cost of his life. Jesus’ death on the cross showed the hold sin has on the world, that it would kill a totally innocent man who preached God’s love in words and actions.
God raised the Son from death to show us that love is stronger than sin and death. The Transfiguration points to the suffering and risen Christ, God’s promise that God would hold nothing back to show God’s love for us. A voice from the cloud directs the disciples, “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” Listen to what? What Jesus had already told them and would repeat: that he would suffer much and anyone willing to follow him must accept suffering in his name. Who would not want to follow and stay close to a master who could shine so, whose life was confirmed by powerful signs and by a heavenly voice?
But on the way down the mountain the one who shone before them told them not to tell others about their experience until he rose from the dead. The light the apostles experienced on the mountain prefigured the resurrection. Peter, who often speaks for the others, did not get it. But the light and then the resurrection would enable the disciples to have hope, as they too would take up the cross to follow their master. But two steps lay ahead: first he was going to suffer and die and then rise from the dead. They too would share in the glory on the mountain; but they first had to experience his suffering and then they would come to have a new, transfigured life for themselves.
Today we find Peter, James and John a long way from the water where they previously spent their days, until Jesus called them to follow him. They were a long way from their families and friends, from the daily and familiar lives they once knew and where they felt quite at home. Following Jesus up the mountain took them out of their world. On the mountain another change took place because Jesus was no longer the companion they thought they knew. First his clothes changed to “dazzling white,” then heroes from the past, Elijah and Moses, appeared and began to talk with him. What did they speak about? Was it his coming suffering and death which he had already begun to teach his disciples (8:31 ff)?
The disciples were taken by surprise, what could they say at such a moment? Peter makes an offer to build three tents to commemorate the event. Was he also hinting at a desire to stay there on a mountaintop where the three has seen a vision, and where they would be safe from what the future would bring?
Because of the resurrection we disciples have hope, sometimes impossible-seeming hope in God’s fierce and sacrificial love for us. God asks us to do what God has done for us, offer ourselves in trust, despite any current trials we may be enduring that try to draw us away from our hope in God. Lent invites us again to surrender to God’s love, as Abraham was willing to do, despite the seeming-contradiction he found himself in.
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