SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT (2021)
Readings:Genesis 22:1-2,9-13,15-18Psalms 116:10, 15-19Romans 8:31-34Mark 8:2-10
The first reading from the Book of Genesis is particularly unnerving, raising as it does a variety of questions which are nearly impossible to answer. Would God ask anyone to sacrifice their own son? Was the outcome planned in advance? Had God been busy, and Abraham followed through with the sacrifice of his only son, would there have been an “oops” moment, “I meant to get back to you sooner”?
Abraham and God had a special relationship, a covenant relationship, not unlike the covenant God made with Noah in last Sunday’s first reading. In God’s covenant, Abraham’s name was changed from Abram, and his trust in God was unshakable. For us, we do not need to interpret the genre of Genesis literally. It is enough for us to come away from the reading catching a glimpse of that kind of trust which is willing to do anything that God asks, knowing, trusting, that it could only be something that is in accord with God’s will. It is the kind of trust echoed in our second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” God’s promises to Abraham – “in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing” – in the Son who would be delivered up to death, that all might enjoy eternal life.
Today’s gospel account of the Transfiguration gives us, and more importantly the disciples, a glimpse of the glory to be revealed during Jesus’ earthly life. The Transfiguration in Mark’s gospel happens only six days after Jesus first speaks of His coming Passion (Mk 8:30f.), something we recall that made Peter very unsettled. It is not improper to see in Jesus’ Transfiguration before Peter, James, and John, a balance to the disturbing (and not fully understood) first prediction of His suffering and death.
Australian Cistercian, Michael Casey, points out that “in standard icons of the Transfiguration, mostly following the sixth-century representation in the apse of Saint Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai, there is a clear division between the top half and the lower. In the upper portion of the icon, the glorified Jesus is shown accompanied by Moses and Elijah. Beneath this, the three disciples are depicted, each in a distinctive attitude. Peter is shown gazing upward in an embodiment of his words, “It is good for us to be here.” Another disciple is shown confused and falling away, often depicted as losing a sandal in the process. The third is beginning to run away. Three responses: delight, fright, flight.Whenever we are touched by an outreaching of the spiritual world our response is not dissimilar to that of the disciples.”
Imagine being present on Mount Tabor to witness this transformation of the ordinary guy from Nazareth. We too might vacillate between delight, fright, and flight, for it would be nothing like anything we had ever seen before. Had the disciples been standing by the side of the River Jordan at Jesus’s baptism, they might have seen the similarities between the voice from heaven which proclaimed, “This is my beloved Son,” and they were already doing their best to “listen to Him!” The delight of Peter would have set up three tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, for then Peter and the others could wallow in the joy-filled moment indefinitely. But the moment was over, and it was time to go back down the mountain, keeping to themselves this extraordinary moment.
The time for witnessing is off the glorious mountain. The time for witnessing is in the dirty and dusty roads of Galilee that will lead Jesus and the disciples to Jerusalem, where the fulfillment of God’s plan, conceived in eternity, would come to fruition. Who wouldn’t want to wallow in the more glorious, more joyful moments of life, but the challenges the world offers gives us the best moments to give witness, for there the unflinching trust shown by Abraham in his God, is the same trust displayed by the apostles and saints who have gone before us. Our encounters with Jesus are only meant to bring “delight,” not “fright” or “flight,” and we have the opportunity to draw as close to our awesome God as is humanly possible in the Eucharist. When the pandemic ends, and it will end, perhaps we will have a better appreciation of the precious opportunity we have in the Eucharist to bolster our faith and strengthen our trust in the God who saved Isaac from the knife, and the God who saves us from all that could harm us.