Today’s first reading about God putting Abraham to the test by
asking him to sacrifice his only son Isaac, is a very difficult one
to hear – not just for parents. Does it confirm what some people
fear about God; that God is a harsh and aloof deity testing us
throughout our lives? Is that the way God is? And who wants a God
like that anyway?
Jews call the story the "binding of Isaac." For the Jewish
community, the story is a metaphor for all their suffering and
persecution throughout the centuries. They have placed their hopes
in God’s hands, despite the seeming absence of God during their
times of trial.
Christians have received the Abraham and Isaac story as a
reflection of Jesus’ obedience to God’s will – even to his death.
Paul, in our second reading, reflects on the death of Jesus as a
sign of God’s generosity, "God who did not spare his own Son, but
handed him over for us all…."
The Transfiguration story underlines that Jesus is God’s "beloved
Son." Through the apparition on the mountain the disciples are
encouraged to see Jesus as more than a miracle worker and prophet.
Instead, in Jesus, God is present and powerfully at work for our
well-being and salvation.
As they returned down from the mountain Jesus asks the disciples
not to tell what they had seen and heard to anyone, "except when the
Son of Man has risen from the dead." At this point in the narrative,
the shadow of the cross begins to loom over Mark’s gospel. Just
prior to the Transfiguration Jesus gives his first teaching about
his upcoming suffering and death. He then tells those who would
follow him, that if they wish to be his disciples, they must deny
themselves, take up their cross and follow him (8:31-38).
The whole biblical story, from its very beginning, is about God’s
forgiveness for human sin. We believe that Jesus died because of our
sins and for our salvation. Do we have to believe that God was
fulfilling what Abraham didn’t have to do – sacrificing God’s only
Son for our sake?
Jesus died on the cross because he was obedient to God’s will.
God wanted Jesus to proclaim a new reign of compassion and
reconciliation with God and with one another – a reign of peace for
all – for the least, and for sinners and outcasts as well. Jesus
fulfilled God’s will and stayed faithful to his preaching and
healing mission. He was steadfast in the mission God gave him, even
though he stirred the wrath of the earthly and religious powers.
Eventually these resisting forces killed him.
How powerful is sin in our world? Powerful enough to resist God’s
loving outreach to us through Jesus. Jesus is the innocent and
perfect model of what it means to be a child of God, made in the
image and likeness of God. He was tragically misunderstood,
suspected and resisted because of human jealousy, hatred and
suspicion – because of our sin.
In today’s gospel Jesus hints what God’s response to human
obstinacy and sin will be. God will raise Jesus from the dead,
proving that God’s love for us can overcome all obstacles and
resistance. God’s love will shine forth in the death and
resurrection of Jesus. The voice on the mountain reveals that Jesus
is God’s beloved child, still God did not stop the powers from
killing him and attempting to silence his message. But those powers
could not prevent God from raising Christ and offering his new life
to all who profess faith in him. Human sin caused the death of
Jesus, but in Christ we have an offer of full reconciliation.
How do we know this? Because Christ went to his death constantly
reaching out to those who felt cut off from God. Jesus’ atoning
death was not sought by the Father or Jesus, but was a consequence
of Jesus’ fidelity to his message of the reign of God and of God’s
love for us. When God raised Jesus from the dead it was a divine
"stamp of approval" on his life and message.
In a violent world Jesus refused to gather an army around him to
overthrow the powers that so oppressed his people. Instead, he chose
the way of nonviolence forgiveness and peace. That’s always a threat
to the dominant powers and so to deal with Jesus they decided to
eliminate him. But God’s way in Jesus prevailed.
What offering shall we make to God in thanksgiving? Certainly at
this Eucharist we offer our lives with the bread and the wine, as a
offering of ourselves to God and God’s purposes. We pray for the
coming of the Holy Spirit upon our gifts to transform them into the
body and blood of Christ. We also pray that Spirit will come upon us
to transform us, as well, into Christ’s presence in the world. We
ask the Spirit to enable us to do what Jesus asks: that we take up
our cross and follow him as agents of his peace and reconciliation.
We can also offer our children to God by teaching and modeling for
them ways of faith, hope and love.
It is Lent and we are praying for our spiritual transfiguration
in God’s love. May we grow in our acceptance of Jesus’ message about
the presence of God’s reign in our lives. In obedience to God may
our lives reflect more deeply that of Jesus, who consistently
showed, through his words and actions and finally through his death,
God’s love for all.
for a link to this Sunday’s readings: