Genesis 22:1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18
Psalm 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19
So as to be more available to the grace of the readings for today’s liturgy, imagine Jesus with three of his disciples climbing up a grassy hill. These three followers of Jesus have learned that there is always something about to happen, but their faces reveal a tension of expectation.
As they continue climbing, they begin commenting on the shapes which the clouds are making. One of them comments that one of the clouds resembles what has become to the Jews, the traditional image of “Father Abraham.” They smile at this and begin wondering out loud how Abraham could have ever walked up a similar hill prepared to slaughter his own son.
There is some serious listening in these two dramatic narratives today. Abraham listens to God’s calling him by name and responds faithfully. More than verbally, Abraham responds faithfully to the terrible thing God asks of him. He is to take his only son whom he loves and sacrifice him by means of a knife. This is a test and Abraham passes easily.
We can pray with concepts of a “trickster” God who presents tests to see if we are faithful. If so, then we have to pray for a different image of God.
We can pray with the words spoken from God to the apostles to listen to his beloved son. WE pray these days of Lent to trust what we do believe. In fact, we pray to see the events of our lives as a way to put God’s faithfulness to the test. If we listen to Jesus will God be faithful to our trusting what we hear?
We can pray with the spirit of Lent. This season is not so much a letting go of our Isaacs, but reflecting on God’s faithfulness to us in the past and the promise to be with us even through the mysterious clouds and physical and emotional sufferings on our own Calvarys. WE are invited to pray with God’s calling our own names, inviting us to our own human lives of wondering, trusting, and looking beyond what seems.
This Second Week of Lent has two mind-boggling images for us to ponder. We are invited to picture Abraham with a knife in his hand poised to “hand over “ his only and beloved son. This is quite a frightening act of doing what God seems to be asking. It is, that, but also not quite so. It is required in the Book of Leviticus that the “first born” of animal or of human origin, as well as the first fruits of a harvest all be surrendered, or “handed over”to God. Isaac fits the prescription. It is a story well designed to be remembered by those who are following Abraham’s faith journey. It does catch one’s attention; faith has consequences. The consequences for Abraham were the promises of fruitfulness which extended to vast lands and abundant descendants. For the faithful Jews there was the always-present need to hear of God’s saving actions. The Pentateuch, of which Genesis is the first book, is an inspired history and constant reminder of how, while they are called to listen and obey, God will always save them from their enemies and themselves.
So what is a “Transfiguration?” It might be a seeing more of what one is seeing. It would be the opposite of the “disfiguration” of the body of Jesus on the top of the mountain or hill of the Crucifixion. It might also be a “prefiguration” in that it has the aspect of ressurectional glory and yet a sense of the “handing over” of which Isaac is a “beloved” figure. What ever it was, the three onlookers were forced to look beyond.
Peter says in response to this event and his seeing Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah, that it is good to be there. When next these three are alone with Jesus up the hill and in the garden of Jesus’ agony, it will not seem good for them to be so present then. Perhaps the Transfiguration was the experience of Jesus’ being more intensely than the apostles were ready for and so too in the Garden.
There is within us all, what is known as an “approach/avoidance” tension. We are attracted to things at times and avoid those same things at other times. We can be attracted to those things we know also are unhealthy for us. Moths approach flame which they should avoid. The three apostles are attracted to Jesus and what they have seen, but they do wonder what Jesus means about “what rising from the dead meant.” They will learn in time, but they stay faithful as much as they can stay present.
We are attracted to and avoid mystery. We want to know reasons for and outcomes of the events of our lives, especially those which boggle our faculties of mind and imagination. Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jesus and eventually the Apostles stayed faithful to the calls, strange though they may be at times, from the Living God. Faithfulness for us is expressed in our being not deaf to these invitations and remaining present to their being played out. What does this “rising from the dead” mean? The apostles stayed at least faithful enough and present to it all, in order to find out.
We read mysteries so as to find out the exciting endings. We are invited during these days of Lent to be freed from closing the book of our mysteries and to stay open and present to see what God is not taking away, but offering.
“Remember your mercies, Lord, your tenderness from ages past.” Ps. 25
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