28Feb February 28, 2021 – Second Sunday of Lent

February 28, 2021
Second Sunday of Lent

(1) Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18

The “Binding of Isaac” shows Abraham’s complete obedience to God

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.”

Responsorial: from Psalm 116

R./: I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living

I trusted, even when I said:
‘I am sorely afflicted.’
O precious in the eyes of the Lord
is the death of his faithful. (R./)

Your servant, Lord, your servant am I;
you have loosened my bonds.
A thanksgiving sacrifice I make:
I will call on the Lord’s name. (R./)

My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
before all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem (R./)

(2) Romans 8:31-34

The Father’s love for us is shown by letting his Son die for our sake

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

The apostles glimpse Christ’s glory, to sustain them through his imminent passion

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.

What must be cast aside?

“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 condemnation of anything which may prove a moral stumbling-block for us was deliberately extreme to make it 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 breakaway 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. The demand that Isaac be sacrificed seemed to utterly contradict God’s promise that the boy would pass on Abraham’s line into the distant future. It was a radical trial of faith, and no greater test of obedience could be set. Abraham’s heart was pierced by the boy’s innocent question, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Finding it impossible to tell his son that he was the intended victim, Abraham stammered, “God will provide.” St. 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 raises several acute questions. Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? Why did Abraham intend to obey? Indeed why did God allow his own divine Son to be sacrificed? The connection between Isaac and Jesus is obvious. Isaac prefigured Our Lord in that he was to be sacrificed on a hill, and he carried on his shoulder the wood for the intended sacrifice. But there the likeness ends. Isaac was the least notable of the patriarchs, a bridge of transition between Abraham and Jacob. In contrast, Jesus at the Transfiguration was shown to his three Apostles, as a figure of miraculous glory, truly God’s Son and messenger to the world. Despite their enthusiasm, the of the Apostles’ faith would be tested later on, as Abraham’s was. The shining revelation of the divine person of Christ was in sharp contrast to watching him in Gethsemane sweating blood before his Passion. The God who spared the son of Abraham and showered him with blessings, did not spare his own Son, but left him in the hands of his enemies for our redemption.

Unlike Isaac, Jesus was aware of what lay ahead. “The Son of Man must suffer,” he had said. Shortly before the Transfiguration, when he first told the disciples what he was to suffer, Peter prayed that God would not allow such a thing to happen. The Lord’s response 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 Jewish, left a testimony of 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 faith of Abraham, and is the kind of faith we should seek as well.

Freedom to let go

I came across a sentence in a book I was reading recently which struck me very forcibly: ‘all love relationships flourish only when there is freedom to let go of what is precious, so as to receive it back as a gift’. It is not easy to let go of what is precious. The more precious someone is to us, the harder it is to let go of that person. The more attractive someone is to us, the more we feel inclined to possess that person. Yet, in the effort to possess someone we can easily lose them. At the heart of all loving relationships is the freedom to let go of the other, and in letting go to receive the other back as a gift. Parents know that there comes a time when they have to let go of their sons or daughters, even though they are more precious to them than anything else. They may have to let them go to another country or to the person whom they have chosen as their future spouse. Yet, in letting go of their children, parents invariably discover that they receive them back as a gift. Single people too have to learn the freedom of letting go what is precious so as to receive it back as a gift. In any good and healthy friendship, people need to give each other plenty of space.

In today’s reading Abraham is portrayed as being willing to let go of what was most precious to him, the only son of his old age. In being willing to let his son go to God, he went on to receive him back as a gift. Many people find it a very disturbing story, because it portrays God as asking Abraham to sacrifice his only beloved son as a burnt offering to God. We are rightly shocked by the image of God asking a father to sacrifice his son in this way. Abraham lived about a thousand years before Christ. In the religious culture of that time it was not uncommon for people to sacrifice their children to various gods. The point of the story seems to be that the God of Israel is not like the pagan gods. If Abraham thought that God was asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac like the people who worshipped other gods, he was wrong. God was not asking this of Abraham. Yet, the willingness of Abraham to let go of what was most precious to him if that was what God was asking remained an inspiration to the people of Israel. He had already shown a willingness to let go of his family and his homeland as he set out towards an unknown land in response to God’s call.

The early church came to understand the relationship between Abraham and Isaac as pointing ahead to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. Like Abraham, God was prepared to let go of what was most precious to him, his one and only Son, out of love for humanity. God was prepared to let his Son go to humanity, with all the dangers that entailed for his Son. Saint Paul was very struck by this extraordinary generosity of God on our behalf, as he says in the 2nd Reading, ‘God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all’. God let his precious Son go to humanity even though the consequences of that were the rejection of his Son and, ultimately, his crucifixion. Even after Jesus was crucified, God continued to give him to us as risen Lord. When Paul contemplates this self-emptying love of God for us, he asks aloud, in the opening line of that 2nd Reading, ‘With God on our side who can be against us?’ Paul is declaring that if God’s love for us is this complete, then we have nothing to fear from anyone. Here is a love that has no trace of possessiveness, a love that makes us lovable.

Today’s Gospel

In today’s gospel reading, Peter, James and John are taken up a high mountain by Jesus, and there they have an experience of Jesus which took their breath away. It was an experience that was so precious that Peter could not let it go. He wanted to prolong it indefinitely and so he says to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is wonderful for us to be here, so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah’. He and the other two disciples had a fleeting glimpse of the heavenly beauty of Christ, and did not want to let go of it. Beauty always attracts; it calls out to us. Yet, Peter and the others had to let go of this precious experience; it was only ever intended to be momentary. They would receive it back in the next life as a gift. For now, their task was to listen to Jesus, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him’. That is our task too. We spend our lives listening to the Lord as he speaks to us in his word and in and through the circumstances of our lives; we listen to him as a preparation for that wonderful moment when we see him face to face in eternity and we can finally say, ‘it is wonderful to be here’.

4 Responses

  1. Kevin Walters

    Many have struggled with this question; how a God of Love could ask Abraham to sacrifice/murder his own son Isaac, while at the same time say “Thou shall not kill”.
    We are taught that God’s Word (Will) is Inviolate, He cannot contradict Himself.

    How do we understand this conundrum?

    Some say the “Old Testament is all about victimhood”, rather it is about the enlightening voice of Truth, showing us the ‘Way’ to our true home in heaven, to understand this journey, we have to understand the ‘Fall’ and the developing Hebrew mentality.

    Jesus tells us, he came to save that which was lost. My understanding of the ‘lost’ is that we are lost in time and place; we all carry a divine timeless spark within us, we are more than a physical being.

    Please see (Continue in) my post @16 in the link below before continuing

    “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

    Man’s Innate knowledge although greatly diminished at the “Fall” still tells mankind that this is so, but now from his broken, distorted heart, he perceives that the physical cosmos is in a continual flux, held in a continuum of distortion. This physical plane as perceived by man is the reality of his fallen state. This reality in our fallen state is not the same reality that is seen on the spiritual plane, as in a ‘timeless moment’, where all is (appears to be) in perfect harmony.

    The early Hebrews, searches of the heart, as in the understanding of the Light of God, can be seen in Abraham, as he sees/believes the ‘spiritual reality of Creation’ as in all things being the Will of One God.
    Human sacrifice was probable practiced by many tribes at that time, although Abraham looked to the Light, we must not forget that he dwelt in his fallen state, as we all do and in that state, it would not be unreasonable to consider that he would have also be drawn into the sacrificial mindset, which he was part of, as in animal sacrifice.

    We do not know in what manner God spoke to Abraham, but possible through dreams, visions, or happenings in nature, as in the lamb caught within a bush just prior to the intended sacrificing of Isaac, but these occurrences as in dreams, visions are all open to an act faith.

    But what we do know is that Abraham acted in singular (pure) intent to his ‘understanding’ of the Will of God. Here we are drawn into the spiritual reality in that all things are in ‘harmony’. Yes, it was the Will of God, that God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, but to us in our fallen state, who dwell upon the earthly plane, it can only be accepted in faith, as it cannot be seen to be in harmony with a God of love.

    God chose a practical way that could not be misunderstood, to convey his Will, to His people, that would be passed down through the ages by word of mouth (storytelling). God’s ways are not our ways, Isaac was not sacrificed. And as this story was passed down around campfires, men would reflect upon the Wonder of our God and continually reflect like ‘twinkling stars’ do, and grow in their understanding of the Light (Spirit) of God, and we see this onward growing understanding, as in:

    Hosea 6:6: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings”.

    This onward spiritual journey home, that is one of spiritual enlightenment, individual and collectively by the early Hebrews, in their fallen nature, is a constant battle between the then known light of “Truth” and earthly ignorance; as in ‘an eye for an eye’, to “do not resist the evildoer”.

    “Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool”.

    This spiritual insight comes from God
    In earthly ignorance, this could be understood as a justification for the suppression of a Godless people. But to dwell/sit in the full reality of the enlightening light of Truth, is to wait patiently, while the justice of God unfolds.

    This same battle is still been played out today within the Church as seen in the ‘just’, self-inflicted chastisement by ‘Truth’ (God) upon the leadership of the Church, as our Lord Himself has placed before these men of power, the elite within the church, who in their own hubris ensnared themselves, by crystalizing their hypocrisy before God and the whole church, in such a way that cannot be misunderstood by all. In endorsing a communiqué that incorporates the direct Word (Will) of God and then using that communiqué, they shamelessly made God in their image, a self-serving image of clericalism.

    But today we are more ‘enlightened’ in that we do not pass a death sentence (Go to war) on blasphemers. This blasphemy has come about because we as a church, do not practice/teach the full reality of ‘Truth’.

    Nevertheless, on the spiritual plane, all is in harmony, while His guiding Light, the Spirit of Truth, leads God’s holy people along the ongoing ‘Way’ of spiritual enlightenment.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

  2. Joe O'Leary

    There are some scandalous texts in the Hebrew Bible that we rightly play down or hide away, notably those reflecting the institution of the “herem” or war of extermination. Some would like to do the same with Genesis 22, the Binding of Isaac, or at least treat it only as an allegory. Some would like to rewrite the story and to have Abraham say to God, “No, I cannot shed innocent human blood even at the command of God,” and in doing so perhaps reorient the entire course of religious history.

    But the text is too powerful to be dismissed. It imposes itself with quiet authority. The principle of the snippet serves it ill, because read at full length it is a masterpiece of suspense, building in unbearable intensity to its climax. Later Genesis has two other suspenseful build-ups, to Jacob’s reunion with Esau, and to Joseph’s with his brothers. Only a great book can contain these three stories and the creation of the world as well!

    But deeper than the literary spell is the high theological drama, for here for the first time the shadow of the Cross falls across the scriptural page. Abraham would not be our father in faith if he had lived out a life of unbroken success and prosperity. He needed to undergo a ‘trial of faith’ to merit his unique status.

    The trial is bizarre, surreal, shocking. Like many others on whom the shadow of the Cross has fallen, Abraham must have asked himself ‘what is God up to? where is all this leading?’ Others might ask, ‘why has God saddled me with this responsibility? why has God imposed this deprivation or renunciation? why has God placed me in such a situation of danger or persecution?’

    Peter will have none of it. He reproves Jesus shortly after today’s story of the Transfiguration and is reproved in turn: ‘Get behind me, Satan, for you do not think the things of God but of humans’ (Mk 9:33). But usually we avoid the Cross not in loud protest but by slyly sidestepping it.

    There’s a thought-provoking passage in Roger Caillois’s so-so novel Ponce-Pilate (1960) that merits reflection:

    ‘The satisfactions brought by duty accomplished, by disinterested pursuit of justice, by a burst of generosity that has not remained theoretical but is translated into acts, these satisfactions remain precarious, dubious, costly. The reward rarely matches the consented sacrifices. Thus these keep their value, but also their rarity. Each one lets himself be discouraged, adopts little by little a more prudent, more selfish line of behaviour. He lets deteriorate in himself an intransigence that he will never recover. He continues to feel the need of it. Many then seek in art, or some external refinement, substitutes that can fool them. They hope to find in them the equivalent of the purity or the perfection, of the absolute that first seduced them in a more secret and demanding domain. They imagine they are pursuing henceforth a parallel ideal in a separate universe, exempt from shocks, dangers, confusions, where it is no longer necessary to devote oneself nor to pay with one’s person. Such a retreat usually appears as the fruit of wisdom and experience, but the heart is not taken in. It knows that it is involved in an irremediable desertion. The mind, the sensibility now appreciate exquisite pleasures, which have indeed their nobility and which are in fact the flower of every civilization. They let many things be forgotten, not all, not the rest, not the remorse of an essential loss, undergone the day that the primitive, inexpugnable sense of human solidarity was as it were disgraced in favour of art or some other luxurious passion. Pilate was aware of this.’

    Abraham bore his trial with trust and patience, as a necessary tax of his appointed role. Doing so, he made history. Cowardly, flabby, temporizing Pilate made history too, and even got into the Creed as a result. He did it by going with the flow, blindly. Abraham was blind in a different way, following the divine command in the darkness of faith. He was led not by the flow of history but by a call to create a new history under divine guidance. He looked in his heart and saw the Cross, which he embraced. Pilate, Peter, Judas saw it too; they shuddered and fled. Perhaps none of us can clamour for the Cross, but we can try to make some acquaintance with it, in the hope of not being too unworthy of it when it comes our way.

  3. Thara Benedicta

    Key Message:
    When God is for us, who can be against us?

    Takeaway from first reading:

    With every sacrifice we do for God, God showers us greater blessings.
    Abraham held nothing greater than God. He was about to sacrifice His only son for God. God held him as the Father of many nations!!

    Takeaway from second reading:

    The Second reading says when God is for us who can be against us?
    Even if we face many battles in our life, we should stop worrying because God will fight our battles. If people disapprove our deeds, if it’s aligning with God then we should be happy. We should ignore the false accusations what people lay down on us. It is the devil’s trick. It’s better to make our God happy through our life, rather than making the whole world happy. The second reading of today ends with a lovely note – ‘Jesus intercedes for us’ – meaning – Jesus prays for us.
    Because of our imperfections, Jesus does not abandon us, but He prays for us!!!

    Takeaway from Gospel reading:

    When Moses and Elijah visited Jesus, we see the presence of Almighty God also.
    Whenever Almighty Father speaks in the times of Jesus, He proclaims loudly “This is my beloved son”. Yet He sacrificed His only son for us. In last week’s Gospel we saw that Jesus was preparing for His ministry in the desert. Now we see that He is being prepared for His passion on the mountain top. Jesus received graces in both the desert and in mountain tops. Almighty Father neither relieved Jesus out of His passion nor from His challenging ministry. But Almighty Father strengthened Jesus and was with Jesus always!!!
    Jesus fought His battles knowing “when my Almighty Father is with me, then who can be against me?” (i.e. God will help me to conquer all the trials and finish all my tasks).

    Thoughts to ponder – when fighting our daily battles, do we recognise that our Almighty Father is interested in our small daily battles and invite Him to fight for us?

    Tips to walk with God:

    1. If we are doing the right thing, but still being accused, be happy. When we want to do the right thing, the enemy will not be happy and he will introduce challenges or battles for us. So in one way we have to be more happy when we face lots of challenges since the enemy is throwing his best tricks on us (because we have made him mad). But God will clear all our obstacles in due time and will recompense us with grace for all the struggles the enemy has placed in our life.

    2. Are we walking according to our conscience or are we making ourselves a puppet of people’s comments? To walk in the great plan our Heavenly Father has already prepared for us, we should not worry about pleasing others. Sometimes the enemy will obstruct us when we do what is right, through the people who really love us.

    3. If we work on a people-pleasing mindset and goal, then we will never be able to reach it. But if we have as our goal to be a God pleaser, then we will truly enjoy our life.

    4. If we feel that the enemy is always creating problems for us, creating obstacles for us in whatever we do, then we need to remember Romans 8:31 – “When God is for us, who can be against us?” Keep meditating on this verse. It will increase our realisation of the realness and presence of God with us.

    5. When we want to get noticed or appreciation from every one for whatever we do, we end up with a lack of peace and live with a feeling of frustration. I have walked in this path earlier and used to get easily demotivated. God has changed me a lot, and now it does not really matter for me what other people think of me. I am living with a feeling of joy now, rather than before this change.

    6. One of the greatest obstacles to our own life is our own mindset/attitude. No need for us to feel low about ourselves since God is for us. God approves us with our own imperfections. He does not reject us because of our wrongdoings, or because we have messed up our life. Actually, our Almighty Father is eagerly waiting for us to mend our lives. When God is for us, then why should we be against ourselves?

    7. When we face difficulties, we need to ask Jesus to come into it. He will come in and gives the grace and strength that we will not be able to explain. If we only focus on God when seeking to be brought out of our troubles, then we will become disappointed. Because God does not follow our time table, but He has His own. We can be at rest, trusting God to win our battles.

    8. In the old testament we read about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego who were securely tied and put inside a burning fiery furnace. But then the king saw “four men walking freely inside the furnace”. God did not bring them out of the fire but God walked among them inside the fire. They came out victoriously. Similarly God may not pull us out of our burning problems now, but He will walk with us through the fire and make us emerge victoriously, not smelling smoke at all.

    Always keep walking with God. When God is leading us, no one can claim victory against us.

  4. Padraig McCarthy

    Genesis 22:
    Good people can sometimes be convinced that they know God is calling them to do something with an appearance of genuine religion. Even Abraham is portrayed in this position, and comes close to losing what is most precious. And yet God can work through such a situation and Abraham discovers a blessing beyond his dreams.

    Romans 8:
    Paul putting his faith in God here at the end of Chapter 8 is in complete contrast with the end of Chapter 7:14-25: “I find myself doing the very things I hate … I know of nothing good living in me … What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death?” And so to our reading: “If God is for us, who is against us?”

    Mark 9:
    Again the context: Mark 8:31-38. Jesus tells of his coming death, and Peter thinks Jesus has lost the plot entirely! Jesus goes further: “Anyone who loses his life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it!”
    And on the mountain, Peter & James & John begin (just begin) to see deeper. Peter proposes tents (tabernacles) of this divine meeting. Then the vision ends, and they see only Jesus, who speaks again about the Son of Man who is to suffer grievously, followed by some nonsense about rising from the dead.
    The mountain-top experience is wonderful.
    The fruit grows in the valleys.

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