Second Sunday of Lent (2018)
Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Psalm 116:10, 15-19
A listener of our somewhat troubling first reading from the Book of Genesis might be inclined to get lost in the details. Our Western mindset is appalled at the possibility that Abraham would be willing to take the life of his son Isaac as a sacrifice, regardless of who asked. Our attention is immediately drawn to the potential victim who appears so innocent and unknowing. But we need to remember that the Genesis story is not meant to be about Isaac. The story is meant to be about Abraham and his faithfulness. The God who called Abraham out of his homeland, promising him land and a progeny beyond counting, is the same God who is asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. The story is simply told, with no details about what Abraham might have been thinking, and no registered protests about what God was asking. The story is meant to be flattering, and an example of the unwavering fidelity that characterized all of the Hebrew forefathers.
The Genesis story, for our purposes today, is really a story about love. It is about a love for God that is so strong and so faithful that a father would be willing to sacrifice the life of his only son. The story is a prototype for the Son whose Father would allow him to suffer such an ignominious death on the hill of Calvary. The love of God for his Son, and his love for the people who were created in His image, was so strong that God was willing to sacrifice his Son in order that God’s people might find their way back to the Father. “If God is for us, who can be against us?,” says St. Paul in our second reading. “Is it possible that he who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for the sake of us all will not grant us all things besides?” God’s love for his people is immeasurable, and the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus proves that!
Genesis and Romans are meant to prepare us to hear the story of the Transfiguration, a synoptic version of which is always proclaimed on this Second Sunday of Lent. The evangelist Mark’s version appears just after the central story of his gospel, the confession of Peter at Caesarea Philippi. Responding to Jesus’ question about how Peter views Jesus, Peter proclaims “You are the Messiah!” But when Jesus speaks to Peter about his impending death, Peter “began to remonstrate with him,” and Jesus calls him “Satan,” a person who is not thinking with a divine mindset.
It is after this Petrine exchange, and after Jesus’ teaching about the cross, that Mark places his Transfiguration story. After bringing the disciples down, the story is offered by Mark as a pick-me-up, giving Peter, James and John a glimpse of Jesus’ divinity. Had the disciples had any doubts about Jesus’ messiahship, the Transfiguration story, with its voice from the cloud, was meant to dispel those doubts. They were given the vision on the high mountain that their understanding of who God is would be transformed, transfigured, and broadened. Their narrow view of what messiahship was all about would come to include suffering and death, and would not include the political transformations that they formerly felt were a sine qua non.
All of the characters we have met in today’s Mass readings – Abraham, Paul, Peter, James, John – broadened their understanding of who God is. All of them, like Jesus, were transformed and transfigured into new people who possessed a greater insight into the mystery of just who God is. Perhaps that is the lesson for this Second Sunday of Lent. We are called in this Lenten journey, through almsgiving, prayer and fasting, to come to a greater insight into the God we worship. We are called to immerse ourselves in the transfigurative moments that continue to occur when the divine enters the human realm and we catch a glimpse of who God is. There is no greater example of just such a transfigurative moment for us as Catholics than when we celebrate the Eucharist, when the ordinary species of bread and wine are transformed/transfigured into the very Body and Blood of Christ. It is that transfiguration which is meant to change us for the better. It is that transfiguration which is meant to give us greater insight into the God we worship, and a greater understanding of what that God asks of us. No matter what it is that God asks of us, may we, like Abraham, Paul, Peter, James and John, be transformed into passionate disciples of God, and be able to answer “Here I am Lord.”