Feb 25
Genesis 22. 1 – 2, 9 – 13, 15 – 18
Psalm 116
Romans 8. 31b – 35, 37
Mark 9. 2 – 10

In today’s first reading Abraham is portrayed as being willing to let go of what was most precious to him, the only son of his old age. In being willing to let his son go to God, he went on to receive him back as a gift. Many people find it a very disturbing story, because it portrays God as asking Abraham to sacrifice his only beloved son as a burnt offering to God. We are rightly shocked by the image of God asking a father to sacrifice his son in this way. Abraham lived about a thousand years before Christ. In the religious culture of that time it was not uncommon for people to sacrifice their children to various gods. The point of the story seems to be that the God of Israel is not like the pagan gods. If Abraham thought that God was asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac like the people who worshipped other gods, he was wrong. God was not asking this of Abraham. Yet, the willingness of Abraham to let go of what was most precious to him if that was what God was asking remained an inspiration to the people of Israel. He had already shown a willingness to let go of his family and his homeland as he set out towards an unknown land in response to God’s call.

The early church came to understand the relationship between Abraham and Isaac as pointing ahead to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. Like Abraham, God was prepared to let go of what was most precious to him, his one and only Son, out of love for humanity. God was prepared to let his Son go to humanity, with all the dangers that entailed for his Son. Saint Paul was very struck by this extraordinary generosity of God on our behalf, as he says in the 2nd Reading, ‘God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all’. God let his precious Son go to humanity even though the consequences of that were the rejection of his Son and, ultimately, his crucifixion. Even after Jesus was crucified, God continued to give him to us as risen Lord. When Paul contemplates this self-emptying love of God for us, he asks aloud, in the opening line of that 2nd Reading, ‘With God on our side who can be against us?’ Paul is declaring that if God’s love for us is this complete, then we have nothing to fear from anyone. Here is a love that has no trace of possessiveness, a love that makes us lovable.

Peter, James and John are taken up a high mountain by Jesus, and there they have an experience of Jesus which took their breath away. It was an experience that was so precious that Peter could not let it go. He wanted to prolong it indefinitely and so he says to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is wonderful for us to be here, so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah’. He and the other two disciples had a fleeting glimpse of the heavenly beauty of Christ, and did not want to let go of it. Beauty always attracts; it calls out to us. Yet, Peter and the others had to let go of this precious experience; it was only ever intended to be momentary. They would receive it back in the next life as a gift. For now, their task was to listen to Jesus, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him’. That is our task too. We spend our lives listening to the Lord as he speaks to us in his word and in and through the circumstances of our lives; we listen to him as a preparation for that wonderful moment when we see him face to face in eternity and we can finally say, ‘it is wonderful to be here’.

Mark’s account of Jesus’ transfiguration and get a snapshot of his divinity. Six days after predicting his death and resurrection, Jesus shows his glory to Peter, James, and John (Mark 8:31; 9: 2 – 8). In a flash, the disciples’ eyes are opened. They can see who Jesus truly is. He is more than a good rabbi, a miraculous healer, or a gifted preacher. He is greater than even Moses or Elijah! Jesus is God.

Jesus disciples didn’t fully grasp their mountaintop vision or how they would need to cling to it as Jesus headed toward the cross. They didn’t know how their faith would be tested or how important it was that Jesus was more than just a man. And they didn’t know what Jesus meant when he said he would die and rise again. But Jesus knew. That’s why he told them to keep the revelation to themselves until he “had risen from the dead” (Mark 9:9).

In his transfiguration Jesus was giving his disciples a gift to sustain them for the day of his crucifixion. On that day there would not be there tents but three crosses. Jesus would not stand between Moses and Elijah; he would hang between “two revolutionaries” (Mark 15:27). On that day they would abandon their teacher and Lord to his cruel end. But Jesus’ transfiguration not only helped the disciples during his crucifixion. Even more, it foreshadowed an even greater revelation of his divinity: the resurrection!

Unlike Isaac, Jesus was aware of what lay ahead. “The Son of Man must suffer,” he had said. Shortly before the Transfiguration, when he first told the disciples what he was to suffer, Peter prayed that God would not allow such a thing to happen. The Lord’s response was instant and severe, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do” (Mk 8:33). In dealing with God we must have faith and trust. On the cellar wall of a bombed-out house in Cologne an unknown fugitive, obviously Jewish, left a testimony of trust that only came to light when the rubble was being cleared away after World War II. It read: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I do not feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent.” That is the faith of Abraham, and is the kind of faith we should seek as well.

Jesus’ glory was just as present on the cross as it was on the mountaintop. The disciples just couldn’t see it. They needed a heavenly perspective and so do we. That’s why Jesus invites us to go up the mountain every day for a glimpse of his glory: to see Jesus, the Son of God, who will be with us always, to the end of time.

So whether you’ re at Mass or confined to your bed, look to Jesus today. Ask him to open your eyes. Let him strengthen your faith and fill you with hope!
God bless!