04Mar 04 March. Second Sunday of Lent

Gen 22:1-2, 9-13,15-18. The “Binding of Isaac” shows how complete was Abraham’s obedience to God. He was even ready to sacrifice his treasured son, if God demanded it of him.

Rom 8:31-34. God the Father has shown his love for us by giving up his Son to death for our sake.

Mk 9:2-10. Jesus is transfigured before the eyes of three of his apostles on Mount Tabor. This glimpse of his glory was meant to sustain their faith in him during his passion and death.

Extraordinary Conversations (Kathryn Williams)

A good way to describe prayer is to call it ‘a loving and intimate conversation with Jesus.’ However, my own prayer life reminds me that such loving and intimate conversations with Jesus are not the usual pattern of prayer.

Prayer is like our everyday conversations. Mostly these are peppered with a certain amount of routine and habit. However, as daily life teaches us, lots of positive things are nudged along when good habits are formed. Prayer patterns have a chance to get written into our day. On the other hand, routine can get tedious, and sometimes our efforts to persevere falter. But then, we don’t berate ourselves when we chat on the run, when our moods color our conversations, when we are weary or don’t feel like talking at all. What’s really important is keeping the connection alive as best we can and as often as we can.

Forming good praying habits often lead us to experience extraordinary moments like those in today’s gospel – transfiguring moments when we know that for some small spaces of time the ordinary gives way to the extraordinary. In company with Peter, James and John we will experience what a wonderful thing it is to have persevered in those ordinary, everyday conversations with Jesus.

Sonship, Witness, Sacrifice (Anthony O’Leary)

The theme that emerges through the readings is that of sonship, Abraham’s son, our own sonship of adoption in Christ and the reality of Christ being the Son of God. One could take up this topic and speak of the gift we have been given of being in the family of God, being sensitive to the painful predicaments of those who are separated, divorced, orphaned, people for whom the family image may evoke traumatic memories. But this human unit is the most available to exemplify our relationship with God. The reality is mysterious and needs to be brought home to people.

Another Option for a homily topic might be that of witness. In the transfiguration we see various people bearing witness to Jesus, the persons of the Trinity, the people of the Old Testament, and the apostles. The apostles who are the forerunners of our faith were deeply privileged to see the glory of Jesus and their experience might make us wish that we had been present with them. Yet these same apostles failed Jesus by not watching with him in Gethsemane and by fleeing at this arrest. One can encourage a weak Christian people and point out to them that we are called to be witnesses to Jesus in the midst of our weakness and our misunderstanding, just as Peter did not grasp the mystery of the transfiguration and wanted to remain on the mountain.

A third and different option might be taken by examining the first reading and speaking about this scandalous demand of God that Isaac be offered to him. I am sure many an intelligent person in church wonders what sort of God this might be. One could outline that the story is in fact against child sacrifice and that God is reaching in to a sinful situation and communicating with Abraham in the language of the people of his time. God reaches us where we are, not in some idealised spot where all is perfect. God loves man in his sinfulness. Abraham’s faith is an obvious topic also.

Getting to Really Know Him (Paul Francis Spencer)

Sometimes we can work beside someone without really getting to know the person; then, one day, something happens which causes him to open up, to begin to let us get close to him, and we discover a depth of riches which we didn’t know existed. The gospel today is about an experience analogous to that, where Peter, James and John are able for a moment to see who Jesus really is.

For the three apostles, it is an experience of something beyond words: frightening and yet, at the same time, so wonderful that they would wish to prolong it by building three tents – for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. Reflecting on the experience, years later, Peter would write: “We had seen his majesty for ourselves. He was honoured and glorified by God the Father, when the Sublime Glory itself spoke to him” (1 Pet 1:17.)

The gospel accounts underline the whiteness of Jesus’s clothes; Mark says they became “dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them.” St. Gregory Nazianzen tells us that this whiteness was the Divinity, manifested to the disciples.

Traditionally, Moses and Elijah are seen as representing the Law and the Prophets, an interpretation which we find in the preface of today’s, Mass. However, Moses and Elijah were also people who had encounters with the Divinity. Both had to cross the desert, fast for forty days, and climb the mountain of God. Moses had prayed to God, “Show me your glory.” When God revealed his back (not his face) to Moses, he placed him in the cleft of the rock, and when he came to Elijah as a gentle breeze, it was at the mouth of the cave. Perhaps these two are present as representing all those who desire to see God’s glory: “When can I enter and see the face of God?” (Is. 42:2)

About what were Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus? Luke says they were “speaking of his passing which he was to accomplish in Jerusalem” (Lk 9:31), and indeed it was in his Passion that the face of God was to be revealed, as John would later write: “No one has ever seen God; it is the only Son, who is nearest to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (Jn 1:18.)

In the Transfiguration, the Father’s voice is heard saying, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” Gregory Palamas says: “The Father by his voice bore witness to his Beloved Son; the Holy Spirit, shining with him in the bright cloud, indicated that the Son possesses with the Father the light, which is one, like all that belongs to their richness.” Just as at the Baptism of Jesus, so also at the Transfiguration, the heavens are opened and we receive a glimpse of the inner life of the Trinity. Jesus is revealed as Son of the Father, who speaks from the cloud of Divine Presence, where in dwells the Spirit.

The three apostles who would see Jesus prostrate in agony in Gethsemane were given this glimpse of who he really is, to strengthen them for what lay ahead, and also to help them to understand what is revealed in the Passion. John says in the Prologue, “we saw his glory;” is he referring to the Transfiguration or to the Crucifixion, to Tabor or to Calvary? Or is there a sense in which these two mountains are one? Is Tabor simply a preview of Calvary, rather than an antidote: a deeper vision of the reality of the Crucifixion event?

Radical Choice (John Walsh)

“If your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better to enter into life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into the hell of fire!” Matthew (18:9). This intense condemnation of anything which may prove a moral stumbling-block for us  was deliberately extreme to make the message stick in people’s minds, and it does. But “hell fire” is not precisely what Matthew wrote, but rather the “fiery Gehenna.” The Hebrew word Gehenna meant the “Valley of Hinnom,” a gorge just south of the Jerusalem Temple. It was a place under a curse, for it was there that the pagan Canaanites used to sacrifice children to their god Moloch, by throwing them into a fire.

Some renegade Jews followed that savage custom until the idol of Moloch was finally destroyed in the 7th century B.C.. The horror of the place survived, and it became the refuse dump of Jerusalem, a place of continual smoke from burning rubbish. In the public mind it became synonymous with hell, a visible image of what that place must be. But there was no place for child-sacrifice in true worship of God, and devout Jews would claim there never was. They saw the confirmation of this in the actions of Abraham, their father in faith, how God stayed his hand as he was about to sacrifice his son Isaac.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is full of high drama. God’s original demand that he be sacrificed seemed to utterly contradict his promise that the boy would guarantee the continuation of Abraham’s line. It was a radical test of Abraham, and no greater proof of faith and obedience could be demanded. His heart was pierced by the boy’s innocent question, “Father, where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Finding it impossible to tell his son the identity of the intended victim Abraham replied, “God will provide.” The evangelist John may well have this episode in mind when he wrote, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son” (3:16).

This story provokes many questions. Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? Why did Abraham set out to obey? Indeed why did God allow his own divine Son to be sacrificed? For the similarity between Isaac and Jesus is obvious. Isaac prefigured Jesus in that he was to be sacrificed on a hill, and he carried the wood of sacrifice on his shoulder to the place of sacrifice.

But there the likeness ends. Isaac was the least outstanding of all the patriarchs, one with no great achievement to his name. In contrast, Jesus at the Transfiguration was revealed to his three Apostles, not only as a figure of miraculous glory, but as being really God’s Son, his specially chosen messenger to the world. Despite the enthusiasm of the Apostles, their faith like that of Abraham was to be tested later on, and this revelation of the divine nature in the person of Christ was by way of preparation for the time the same three would be watching him in Gethsemane sweating blood at the prospect of what awaited him next day. For Christ, in whom the Father is well pleased would come to his messiah-ship through suffering. God had spared the son of Abraham and showered blessings on him, yet his own Son he did not spare, but gave him into the hands of his enemies for the sake of our redemption. Unlike Isaac, Jesus knew what lay ahead. “There is a baptism I must still receive,” he had said, “and how impatient am I until it is accomplished” (Lk 12:50). Just six days before the Transfiguration, when he had told the disciples that he was to suffer in Jerusalem, Peter prayed that God would not allow such a thing to happen.

The response of Jesus was instant and severe, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do” (Mk 8:33). In dealing with God we must have faith and trust. On the cellar wall of a bombed-out house in Cologne an unknown fugitive, obviously a Jew, left a testimony of his trust, that only came to light when the rubble was being cleared away after World War II. It read: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I do not feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent.” That is the kind of faith we should have as well.

First Reading: Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Second Reading: Romans 8:31-34

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-10

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

2 Responses

  1. Shafik Khouzam

    It was hard to explain that reading of the gospel.
    You helped me to prepare my catechism class.

  2. Tony Butler

    I am happy that Shafik found help with the Gospel. My problem is with the first reading; I would dearly like to hear Isaac’s side of this story! I do have a problem with a God that even ” asks ” for a father to kill his child, divine sacrifice nor not!