From the First Sunday of Lent's desert, the readings of the Second Sunday bring us to the mountains. In our figures of speech we speak of mountains as obstacles, something we have to rise above, overcome, or flatten. In the Scriptures, mountains are a privileged place of encounter with God. Mountains are a privileged place of God’s revelation.
In the first reading, we could be horrified with the test God gives Abraham – he asked Abraham to offer his son as a holocaust, as a burnt offering. I remember from our class in Old Testament Historical Books, how the story unfolds in drama and intensity. Only a part of the story is read to us, but still, we could have a feel of the intensity. God called Abraham to test him. At one shout, Abraham responds immediately, “Here I am.” Abraham was always attentive to God, and he responds quickly. Maybe we should also ask ourselves, how quick we are to respond to God.
Then God tells Abraham, “Take your son, Isaac.” We could just imagine Abraham light up with joy at the mention of his son. Then God adds, “Isaac, your only son, whom you love.” We could just imagine Abraham’s love and affection for his son show up in his face. I always see this in my father’s face when he talks about us his children, all nine of us. But then there is more to God’s message: “Take you son, Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.” We could just imagine Abraham’s face drop in anguish. But he does not complain. Early the next day, he sets everything up, and as commanded, he obeys. It is not included in today’s selection, but at one point, while they going to the mountain, there was a conversation between Isaac and Abraham. “Father,” Isaac began. Affectionately, Abraham answered, “Yes, my son?” Isaac innocently asks, “I see that you have the coals and wood, but where is the lamb for sacrifice?” We could only imagine, this breaks Abraham’s heart, but not his faith, and he responds, “God himself will provide one.” And we know the rest of the story. God did not intend to have Isaac sacrificed. He was asking Abraham to sacrifice himself totally. Abraham obeyed, and for this he becomes the source of blessing for all nations.
Abraham here is a figure of God the Father who, as the Gospel of John tells us, “so loved the world that he sent his only Son so that all who will believe in him will have life.” At the same time, Abraham too is a figure of Jesus, who obeyed God’s will, even if it meant giving up what is most precious as Paul’s letter to the Philippians attest to: “Though he was in the form of God, Jesus did not deem equality with God, something to grasped at. Rather, he emptied himself, took the form of a slave, and accepted even death, death on the cross.”
Jesus accepted the will of God, not without human struggle. Remember that in the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Father, if possible, let this cup pass me.” But in the end, he submitted and obeyed, as he prayed, “But not my will, but yours be done.” Jesus knew what he was facing and so he intimated this to his disciples, who were of course incredulous, shocked and confused. “How can this man, whom we have followed and whom we think will lead us to defeat our oppressors talk about being arrested, tortured and killed? What is this all about? Where can we pin our hopes now?” These and many others could have been the confused questions of the disciples. And so Jesus brings three of them to a mountain. There, he transfigures before them. He shows them a glimpse of his glory. This was a revelation of who he is – that he is divine. It is thus an encouragement to the disciples that even though he will suffer and die, it will not be the end. Rather, there is glory that will come with it. Having revealed the glory of the Son, the Father speaks – “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
Peter would have wanted that they stay in glory. But then, Jesus tells him that they have to go down the mountain, and face the command of the Father. They were to go down the mountain and obey the command of God, which will entail much difficulty, even persecution and death, but not without hope.
Today, we too are faced with the command of God – to turn to Jesus and to listen to him. There are many other voices. Often they are loud, forceful and dominant. There are voices telling us that this or that is what life is about, that this or that is what love is about, that this or that is what marriage is about, that this or that is what freedom is about, that this or that is the new and better way, that this or that is what consists of happiness, that this or that is what we should be and do. But there is only one voice that matters – Jesus. And this is what the Church echoes. It may be drowned, muffled, jammed, ridiculed by some, or even by many, but it still does not change the imperative. Jesus is God’s beloved Son. It is to him alone that we should listen. It is him alone whom we should obey.
As we continue with our Lenten journey, we pray for the gift of obedience – that we may listen to Jesus and obey only God’s will – even when unpopular, even when marginalized, even when ridiculed or labeled as outmoded, even when threatened by powers that be. We may be disdained by those whose values are of the world, but we know that true blessing can come only with obedience to God. Those who hold to the values of the world may consider us out of touch with trends, but what matters is that we are in touch with God’s will, and in the forthcoming, which is eternal, we will be justified.
The words of Paul in the second reading encourages us – “If God is with us, who can be against us? Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? Jesus, who is at the right hand of God intercedes for us.”
Have a holy Lent.