Meditation for 2nd Sunday in Lent

First Reading: Genesis 22:1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19
Second Reading: Romans 8:31-34
Gospel: Mark 9:2-10
Each year, one of the Gospel accounts of the Transfiguration of Jesus is read at one of the Sunday masses during Lent.   However, as often as we hear this wonderous story, there is little that we truly understand about it – either how it happened or why it happened (what it meant).  It cannot possibly have been merely to point out Christ’s divine Sonship, because God the Father already revealed that at Jesus’s baptism in the Jordan, saying "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."
The fact that it is read during Lent each year suggests that the Church wishes us to relate this moment on the mountaintop to the events on the hill of Calvary, which culminates in Jesus’s glorious Resurrection.  The figures seen with Jesus are Moses (representing "the Law") and Elijah (representing "the prophets").  These are the one who were "types" of Christ in the Old Testament, as well as the reason Jesus says that he came to fulfill "the Law and the prophets", which he completely fulfilled in his Passion, death, and Resurrection.  C. S. Lewis, in chapter 16 of his book Miracles, suggests that the Transfiguration also hints at the future glorification of all those saved by Christ (but he admits that he too is stumped and is only offering multiple guesses).
Whatever the true meaning(s) may be, there are several points worth drawing out from among the various readings for today that are worthy of further meditation.
  • Abraham is told to offer Isaac as a holocaust.  There were 2 main types of sacrifices made in the Old Testament: one was for praise and thanksgiving to God, the other was for the forgiveness of sins.  Abraham may have thought that he was being punished by God for not trusting God’s promises earlier (which resulted in the birth of Ishmael and the rift between Sarah and Hagar). With the wages of sin being death, Abraham may have concluded that the sin offering for his offense was to be his son (and thereby a revocation of the promise God made to Abraham that his descendents would be as numerous as the stars).  However, God does not necessarily work that way, especially when one of His promises are involved.  Hence, the offering of Isaac is just a test to see if Abraham had now learned to trust God’s promises, despite the circumstances.
  • God’s promise to Abraham of a vast multitude of descendents is necessarily a promise to Isaac as well.  Hence, God has no desire for Isaac to die, for "too costly in the eyes of the LORD is the death of his faithful." (Psalm 116:15)
  • The ram (i.e., a male lamb) caught with its horns (head) in the thickets (or woody thornbushes) is offered in Isaac’s place for Abraham’s sake.  This forshadows Jesus (i.e., the Lamb of God) offered on a cross of wood with thorns around his head in our place and for our sake.  The offering of Abraham of the ram was an offering of thanksgiving, or in Greek eucharistia.
  • The "mountaintop experience of God" for anyone (be it Abraham and Isaac; Peter, James, and John; or any one of us) can be confusing, striking, and troublesome. 
    • It is confusing because we cannot possible fit God into our puny minds, so we can become blabbering idiots. (cf. Mark 9:6)
    • It is striking in that we can become so awestuck by God’s majesty that we forget what we are doing.  This is when we just need to listen to God and answer as Abraham did: "Ready!" "Yes, Lord!" "Here I am!"  All too often, the natural inclination is to remain in God’s presence and try to continuously live that experience.  Usually, though, God is calling us to go back down the mountain – back to the mundane – to do His will, which in Jesus’s case was to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Resurrection.
    • It can be troublesome in that we may think that God wants us to do something that He hasn’t specifically told us to do, simply because we are overwhelmed by the experience and feel the need to do something big and wonderful (e.g., Peter wanted to build 3 "tents", a.k.a. tabernacles), in order to show gratitude for having been blessed by the experience.

The best meditation we can give on these readings may very well be: do we look to each reception of the Eucharist as a "mountaintop experience of God", or do we look at it as part of our Sunday routine?

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