Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Romans 8:31b-35, 37; Mark 9:2-10
God’s call is personal and at the same time very demanding. It is an invitation to enter into his holiness with an attitude of faith and total trust in God. We encounter a God who speaks to us and we are called upon to listen to him and respond to him. Now as we enter the Second Week of Lent, our task is to continue to examine our hearts and change ourselves in order to be worthy of his glorious paschal mystery. God tells us that our thoughts are not like his thoughts and our ways are not akin to those of his choice. As human beings we do not like change and we resist any change as much as we can. However, change is a part of our life and we cannot just depend on our past glory and achievements. We know that we are pilgrims on a journey to a more permanent dwelling place, a place of total union with our God of Truth and Love. The Gospel of today speaks of striking intervention by God in people’s lives indicated through the transfiguration of Jesus on the Mountain. Jesus is transfigured in the presence of his disciples, manifesting to them his divinity to strengthen them in their faith before he enters into his Passion and death on the cross. They are called upon to listen to him the one chosen by the Father. In the first reading we heard God asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son. Even though God had promised a great dynasty for him, Abraham shows his obedience and displays complete trust in God’s promise. God preserves his son and also grants him his multiple rewards. In the second reading Paul assures us that we have nothing to fear. God the Father and his beloved son are on our side.
The First Reading from the Book of Genesis tells us that God tested Abraham. God called Abraham and commanded him to take his son Isaac whom he loved and to go to the land of Moriah to offer him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that will be shown to him. Abraham’s faith is so strong that he obeyed God without hesitation and early in the morning he set out towards the mountain. He took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac, as they climbed the mountain. When Abraham came to the place that God had shown him, he built an altar there and laid the wood in order. Then he bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Just when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, the angel of the Lord called him from heaven and told him not to lay his hand on the boy or do anything to him. The faith of Abraham had been tested and God knew by his actions that he had a sincere heart. Abraham obeyed God to the end. After the angel of the Lord had stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son, Abraham saw a ram caught in the thicket by its horn. He took the animal and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. In response to his obedience God made a promise to Abraham, that because he did not withhold his son, he would be blessed. His dynasty would become as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore and all nations will find blessing in his family.
In the Second Reading of today, Paul speaks of the perseverance and fidelity to our religion moves alongside our living faith. In the early days of the Church, there was much persecution and many of the converts feared losing their lives. Addressing this issue, Paul told the community that if God is for us, no one can remain against us. It is clear that God was on the side of the Christians and they had nothing to fear. He tells the Christians that God made the ultimate sacrifice of His only beloved Son but gave him for our benefit. That is why God is so pleased with his Son, because Jesus freely offered up his life in order to show us the enormous love of God for us. Now he will along with Jesus provide the Christians with all their needs. Since we have Jesus on our side, no one will separate us from the love of Christ. Jesus made the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Christ Jesus died for us and was raised from the dead. He is at the right hand of the Father interceding for us. Therefore we have nothing to fear. For those who persevere in their living faith, Jesus atoned as the Lamb of God to secure their righteousness before the Heavenly Father. With this there can be hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword. For the love of Christ is eternal. While we may temporarily suffer in these physical bodies, our living hope in Christ is in the life to come as spiritual beings.
In the Gospel of today we have the story of transfiguration of Jesus. The story of the transfiguration has one primary purpose, namely to reveal the divine identity of Jesus. This takes place immediately after Jesus telling the disciples that he would be rejected by their political and religious leaders and made to suffer and die before rising the third day. It is clear that this came as a terrible shock to the disciples. Their vision of the Messiah was of a glorious, victorious king defeating all the enemies of Israel. The idea that Messiah would be rejected made to suffer and die at the hands of his own people was simply unthinkable. Transfiguration therefore seems that this special experience and is being given to balance out the picture. Only a small inner circle is chosen for the experience. It seems that these three disciples, Peter, James and John are given a glimpse of the real Jesus to help them through the dark days ahead. In fact these three disciples are present at every important juncture and event in his ministry. It is fitting that the event took place on a mountain, since it is a traditional location where the presence of God is manifested in a wide variety of ways. The disciples are brought by Jesus up a solitary mountain. Tradition identifies the mountain as Tabor but it does not really matter. Mountains are traditionally places where God is to be found. Moses delivered God’s Law from the summit of Mount Sinai. Jesus, the new Moses, delivered the New Law from a mountain. As usual in such miraculous events there is minimum of detail. We are simply told that Jesus was transfigured and that his clothing became dazzling white.
The Gospel gives us a glimpse at what awaits those who persevere in their living faith. When Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain, they witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. He was transformed with the dazzling light of God’s glory. His clothes became dazzling white such as no one on earth could bleach them. The vision of Christ glorified was a special privilege granted to the disciples which they would never forget. John writes in his Gospel that they had seen his glory, of the only son of God. For them this was the proof of his divinity and his role as Messiah. Mark in his gospel places the event on a mountain where Jesus is proclaimed Son of the Father as he was proclaimed at Baptism and finally will be proclaimed when on the cross that he is the Son of God. The three disciples totally impressed by the glory of their maser want this to continue forever. For them it was an experience beyond all words. For them the transfiguration was more than a mere external change. The presence of the Law and the Prophets make Jesus the fulfillment of the Old Testament. For them it was not easy to understand and only later on they are able to grapple the mystery fully.
Elijah and Moses are present in the transfiguration episode and are in conversation with Jesus. Commentators are unclear about the meaning of their presence. A common understanding is that somehow they represent the Prophets and the Law, which was a way of referring to the revelation. Together they represent the whole tradition of God’s people. In that case Jesus was here manifested as the fullness of divine revelation. Peter and no doubt the other two disciples are uncertain as to grasp the full meaning of it. Perhaps wanting to extend the sacred event itself Peter suggests that they make three Tents. The Old Testament imagery of Tent signified divine presence. Some think this might also refer to the practice of the feast of Tabernacles which commemorated Moses receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai. The real point was that the disciples did not at all know what to make of this and thus their major response was terror. The highlight of the transfiguration is the voice that comes from the overcasting cloud, identifying Jesus as the Beloved Son, and the mandate that follows to listen to Him. Here again we have further endorsement of Jesus for the benefit of his disciples. Jesus is God’s own dear Son. And they are to listen to Jesus even when he says things they find it hard to accept: his rejection, suffering, death – and resurrection. The Old Testament cloud was always the symbol of the presence of the divine majesty. No doubt the voice they heard was the voice of God. Here again we have further endorsement of Jesus for the benefit of his disciples. Jesus is God’s own dear Son. And they are to listen to Jesus even when he says things they find it hard to accept: his rejection, suffering, death – and resurrection. No sooner had the voice spoken than the event was over. Jesus does not want the disciples spreading the news of this event because it will not be fully comprehensible until after he has been raised from the dead. Jesus’ message is well taken since they did not comprehend the mystery nor did they understand the meaning of raising from the dead. Yet they had the message of God specially given to them and they had seen the glimpse of his divinity.
The voice they heard from the Father told the disciples that they must listen to Jesus. Jesus the Son of God has brought to the world the message of the Father. This needs whole hearted attention. True listening requires a response from the listener, attending to what was said, recognizing its meaning, and making it part of the person’s inner, conscious experience. God speaks to us in so many ways, through persons, situations and activities. One person may barely notice a patch of blue sky, whereas the person of prayer, who listens to God, sees in it the dome of heaven. St. John of the Cross once pointed out that many of the people who think they are listening to God are actually only listening to themselves. We must be attentive to listen to God speaking to us. First of all we need to learn to listen to what life is saying in the present moment before trying to shape our prayer. Too often we make the world just a projection of our own desires and fears. Second, when life gives us its message, we should make the understanding of that message as the object of our prayer. At the foundation of the prayer of life is the virtue of hope, and hope is the grace to believe that whatever events occur, they will contain the necessary ingredients of our salvation. Third, once we have received the message of life we must attempt to integrate it into our life. In this context the Gospel must be the focal point of our lives. Finally we need to pray and listen to what God says. We know God has no need of our prayers, in fact the very desire to pray be a gift from God.
The liturgy of today is dominated by two fathers – son relationships, both characterized by an inexpressibly great heroism. Each father loves his son whole heartedly like no one has ever loved. Abraham lives for his only son Isaac and loves him intimately. It appears as an unsurpassable paternal love. In the gospel when God speaks of his Beloved Son, he is expressing a love that is beyond all the paternal and maternal love in the history of the universe. Each of the Fathers is prepared to offer their beloved one in sacrifice: Abraham in the obedience of faith to a God whose mystery and whose thoughts surpass him; God the Father in obedience to his own faithful love for human creatures. This being the same love generating from God, is infinitely greater than the deepest and purest human love ever known. Each son in these narratives freely takes on himself the wood required for the sacrifice, and though neither of them could humanly wish to be the victim each one trusts in the love of a father who could never abandon him. Each one is an innocent victim. We know, though, that the innocence of the second, the Lamb of God, is of another order altogether. He accepts his sacrifice with full knowledge of what awaits him and he will continue trusting even in what seems to be the total absence of his Father and has totally abandoned him. Just as Peter and his companions will learn on the mountain, he is not just a son of Abraham, but the only-begotten Son of the Almighty. In the narrative God instructs Abraham to substitute a ram for Isaac, but Jesus himself is the Lamb who sacrifices himself and there is no reprieve for him. He sacrifices himself for us out of love.
Today as we listen to his Word the Father still speaks to us and tells us that Jesus is his beloved son and we ought to listen to him, for he has the words of eternal life. For the disciples unknown to them the glory of Jesus’ transfiguration was preparing them to accept the scandal of the cross. They would understand this only later with the resurrection. Today let us look beyond the pain of life and see the presence of God in our world, and the gift of life that God makes to each of us. Let us listen to him intently and put his words into practice. Let us all open ourselves during this Lenten period that we may both experience that love in our own lives and help others to know that love too. And be ready to offer our lives for others in any way that God calls us.
A curious phenomenon occurred in the life of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. One morning in 1888 he was shocked to read his own obituary in the Newspaper, instead of that of his brother who died, all due to the mistake made by the reporter. What the newspaper said of him, made Alfred Nobel realize the awful image he had projected to the world. He was proclaimed the dynamite king who comes into immense wealth with the manufacture and sale of deadly weapons of destruction. No one seemed to have noticed his humanitarian efforts at bridging people and ideas. No one remembered the good he had done in his life. He felt miserable. At that moment he decided to do something to remedy that image. In his will he left his enormous fortune to the establishment of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. Today several other prizes are given in his name. People hardly remember him for the invention of dynamite. They remember him for the Peace Prize.
Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Bangalore, India