SECOND SUNDAY IN lent
Today’s first reading and Gospel speaks to us about the relationship between two fathers and their sons. In the first reading, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his beloved son prefigures the sacrifice of Jesus, God’s beloved Son. In the second reading, Paul reminds us that with God on our side we cannot lose. From another viewpoint, we can say that all three readings give us a glimpse of what it was like for Abraham, Peter, James, John and Paul to “walk in the presence of the Lord.”
FIRST READING: Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18
The story of Abraham is about a man who listens to God and responds with faith and obedience. When he hears God’s call to leave his homeland, he obeys. When God promises him and his wife Sarah a child, he believes even though Sarah is advanced in years. When God asks him to sacrifice his only son, he does not question God. This is a story of a man trusting God even when it makes no sense to trust him. Being a man of great faith, Abraham presumes God knows what he is doing. Abraham’s response to God is not “Why, God?” or “Why me?” but one of obedience, trust and action. In the context of our Lenten liturgy, this reading points to the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. This story is also intended to teach the Israelites about the immorality of human sacrifice—something that was normal during Abraham’s time. As beloved sons and daughters of God, we are called to faithfulness and obedience especially in times of trials.
SECOND READING: Romans 8:31-34
These verses may have been written by Paul to encourage people whose faith is being tested because of suffering. Paul’s contention, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” is intended to elicit a response of faith. Who can defeat those who have God on their side? God’s willingness to sacrifice his only Son on our behalf should surely prove, without doubt, his love for and interest in us.
GOSPEL: Mark 9:2-10
In this mystical and awe-filled event, Jesus and his three apostles experience the glory of God. They are, as it were, transported into another reality. The references to Jesus’ face “dazzling as the sun” and his clothes “radiant as light” are reminiscent of Old Testament theophanies (appearances of God). The presence of Moses and Elijah symbolizes “the Law” (given to Moses) and “the Prophets.” In Jesus, both converge and are brought to fulfillment. The response of the apostles is one of incredible joy and holy terror. They are so over-awed that they do not want to leave: “Let’s build three booths.” But they are also overcome with fear. Spiritual theologians tell us that the “experience of the holy” can cause us to be overjoyed and terrified at the same time. Sometimes that which we most deeply desire, e.g., intimacy with God or another, may also be most terrifying to us. We are afraid of losing ourselves to another. The heavenly voice tells the apostles to listen to Jesus for he is God’s anointed Messiah. In the dark days ahead, this mountaintop experience will sustain both Jesus and the apostles. Remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the night before he died: “We have some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter now. Because I have been to the mountaintop…mine eyes have seen the glory of the Lord.”
Have you ever had a spiritual mountain top experience?