2nd Sunday of Lent Year – B – 2015
Gen.22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Rom.8:31b-34; Mk.9:2-10
The old farmer from the countryside who was visiting a big city for the first time with his son, stood speechless before the elevator of a big hotel, watching in wonder, as an old woman got into the elevator and, within minutes, a beautiful young woman came out. He called out to his son who was registering at the reception. “Son, put your mother into that miracle machine immediately. It will transform her into a beautiful young lady.”
Abraham loved God so much that he was willing to give his most precious, the son that he loved, to the Lord. I could preach about how wonderful it is that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, and how we need to be willing to give everything to God, and then someone will go home and sacrifice their children. We all would consider them a monster, but they could say, and rightly so, “I wanted to give God everything.”
That is not what happened in the reading today. The story of Abraham and Isaac is full of high drama. The demand that Isaac be sacrificed seemed to utterly contradict God’s promise that the boy would pass on Abraham’s line into the distant future. It was a radical trial of faith, and no greater test of obedience could be set.
If someone ever tells you that there is any virtue in killing your children as a human sacrifice because you love God so very much, do not believe them. If you think that God is asking you to kill someone to please him, stop and get medical care.
So what was going on in that reading? Abraham knew that God was going to stop him. That story is about faith. Abraham had a promise from God: Isaac will give you grandchildren. Isaac had not yet had any children. So Abraham knew that even if he took Isaac up on the mountain, God would save him.
Even if Abraham stabbed Isaac through the heart, God would save him. Even if Abraham killed Isaac, God would raise him from the dead. Abraham knew, as he walked up the mountain with Isaac, that Isaac would yet have children. He believed the promise. He had no doubt, and, therefore, he had no fear.
We could see the faith of Abraham when the boy asked the innocent question, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering? With all faith in God, Abraham answered “God will provide.” The position that Abraham is in with respect to God, is the position that Isaac is in with respect to Abraham. Consider that time period. There was no government.
There was no social structure other than the family. Isaac did not go to school. There was no such thing as a book. Isaac learned everything he knew from his father and mother. For all he knew that he had to go with his father to the mountain. What was going through Isaac’s mind? I imagine that he thought that his father was performing a secret ritual, something symbolic. He trusted that his father was not going to kill him. He knew that his father loved him.
This is also Abraham’s position with God. How did he make sense of all these messages from God? We do not know. He only has a voice which speaks to him and makes promises. He had learned to trust these promises completely. So Isaac goes up the mountain not knowing exactly what will happen on the top but trusting that his father loves him and will not harm him.
Abraham goes up the mountain not knowing exactly what will happen on the top but trusting that God would never break his promise to provide children through Isaac. God demanded that Abraham take Isaac up that mountain knowing what would happen at the top.
Usually the story of the sacrifice of Isaac is considered as a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Jesus. Isaac carried the wood on his back; Jesus carried the Cross on his. Isaac was a beloved son; Jesus was the Beloved Son. Abraham said to Isaac that God would provide the sacrifice; Jesus was the sacrifice that God provided.
However, as the Church shows us today by this choice of readings, that story also foreshadows the Transfiguration. In the Gospel today, Jesus climbs a mountain with Peter, James, and John. On the top of each mountain, a glorification occurs. The voice speaks from heaven. To Abraham the voice said, “I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants like the stars of the sky and the sands on the seashore.”
Abraham goes up the mountain as just another man, but comes down the mountain as our father in faith. To Jesus, or rather, to his disciples, the voice said, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” God made a promise to Abraham, but about Jesus he merely stated a fact and gave a command. “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”
When Abraham took his son up that mountain, he was declaring himself to be for God 100%. He was a servant of God. He was devoted. He trusted God and believed his promises. God said, “March your son up a mountain” so Abraham got up early the next morning and set out.
Likewise, when God sent his Son into the world, he was declaring himself to be for us 100%. Yes, if God is for us, who can be against us? Since he did not spare his own Son, but handed him over for us all, will he not give us everything else along with him?
You might remember comedian Yakov Smirnoff. When he first came to the United States from Russia, he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, “On my first shopping trip, I saw powdered milk: you just add water, and you get milk.
Then I saw powdered orange juice: you just add water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, ‘What a country!’” Yes he is just joking but we make these assumptions about Christian Transformation—that people change instantly at salvation. Some denominations make Christianity so simple: accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, confess your sins to him, you are instantly saved and born again. Some traditions call it repentance and renewal. Some call it Sanctification of the believer. Whatever you call it, most traditions expect some quick fix to sin.
We go to Church as if we are going to the grocery store: Powdered Christian. Just add water and you get disciples! Unfortunately, there is no such powder, and disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. They are slowly raised through many trials, suffering, and temptations.
The transubstantiation in the Holy Mass is the source of our strength. In each Holy Mass, the bread and wine we offer on the altar are changed into the crucified and risen, living body and blood of Jesus. Just as Jesus’ transfiguration strengthened the apostles in their time of trial, each holy Mass should be our source of heavenly strength against temptations, and our renewal during Lent.
In addition, our Holy Communion with the living Jesus should be the source of our daily “transfiguration,” transforming our minds and hearts to will of God so that we may be addressed by God as His beloved sons and daughters. Amen.