Sunday, March 4, is the Second Sunday of Lent (Year B, Cycle II).
Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Psalms 116:10, 15, 16-19; Romans 8:31-34, Mark 9:2-10
In today’s readings, we hear two stories about sacrificing sons on mountaintops. They teach two things: God is demanding, but God will do the best thing for us in the end.
The first son is Isaac. His father, Abraham, is told to sacrifice his boy on Mount Moriah. In the longer version of the story, it is clear that Isaac knew something was up. At one point he asks (nervously, we might imagine) what exactly his father plans to sacrifice on the mountain. But he doesn’t argue. He goes along with his father’s plan, even carrying the wood that his father meant to use to offer him.
The obedience of Abraham is famous: His very future, his very identity, is tied up with this son, and yet he is willing to sacrifice him at the Lord’s command.
But it should also be pointed out that his son’s obedience is admirable, too. His father woke early in the morning with an intense look in his eyes and a plan to go up the mountain with the tools of sacrifice but no lamb, and Isaac followed.
It seemed at one point as if Abraham would do the unthinkable: He would slaughter his only son. But Isaac isn’t slaughtered. He is saved at the last minute, and he later becomes the father of Israel, the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, and a patriarch in his own right.
In his willingness to follow his father’s will, he foreshadows Christ himself, who carried the wood of the cross up Mount Calvary to his own place of sacrifice.
His father, like Abraham, asks him to offer himself on Mount Calvary — and that’s what Christ does. The Stations of the Cross tell the story of this new Isaac’s journey up to the cross, but they end not with his rescue, but with his lifeless body being taken down by others and then buried.
Isaac learned that God was demanding, but generous in the end. Isaac had to pass a difficult test to become the father of Israel, the great nation that endures to this day.
Peter, James and John see how great Christ is when he is transfigured before them in today’s Gospel. They see Moses and Elijah — the father of the Law and the exemplar of the prophets — standing beside Jesus. Moses and Elijah are not transfigured. The greatest figures in Jewish history look ordinary compared to Jesus Christ.
In the case of Jesus on Calvary, the glorious promise of Christ’s future — a future where he shines brightly in the night as he speaks with great men who were long deceased — came before his own death. This was meant to embolden the apostles to accept the death of Christ.
Jesus tells them that they must take up their crosses each day and follow him. He might as well have said that they must take up their wood each day and follow Abraham up Mount Moriah. But by showing them a vision of the Resurrection in the Transfiguration, he has shown the apostles what they can look forward to.
We are called to many sacrifices in our lives. Some have to suffer the loss of their children or their livelihoods or their homes or the places they are familiar with or a host of other difficulties. The Transfiguration reminds us that no matter how terrible the suffering we face, the future is safe in Christ’s hands.
Jesus just wants us to see it in proper perspective, the perspective of sacrifice.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.