Here are some reflections on the Sunday readings for this week.
Have you ever felt like God was asking you to do more than was possible, or that he had put you in an impossible situation? In the first reading for today, God tests Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his only son. Sacrifice of children was a practice in some of the cultures around Abraham as a way of showing extreme devotion. Therefore, this command from God is not something completely strange for Abraham. However, Abraham has followed God for many years, and he knows that his God is not like the cruel gods to which the surrounding tribes sacrifice their children. Abraham knows that God is faithful to his covenant, the same covenant in which he promised that through Isaac, Abraham would have many descendants.
We see the faith of Abraham, not only because of his willingness to obey, but in the answer he gives to Isaac when he asks, “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham replies, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son” (Gen 22:7-8). The writer of Hebrews says that Abraham “considered the fact that God is able to raise someone from the dead” (Heb 11:19), so he was not worried about losing his son.
God stops Abraham from killing Isaac and provides a ram for the sacrifice. God indeed provided, as Abraham said he would, but Abraham’s prediction has a greater fulfillment. St. Paul tells us in the second reading that God “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all.” (Rom 8:32). Therefore, when our Gospel reading shows Jesus on another mountain, we might wonder if a connection is to be made to the mountain in the first reading. In today’s Gospel reading, Mark tells us that Jesus conversed with Moses and Elijah, but in Luke’s version of the same story, he says that Moses and Elijah spoke to him “about his exodus, which he was to accomplish at Jerusalem.” In other words, they were speaking to Jesus about his crucifixion. It was on the cross that God makes the ultimate fulfillment of Abraham’s prophecy. Jesus is the lamb that God provides to take away the sins of the world.
On the transfiguration mountain, we do not see a mere man. His glory shows Peter, James, and John, as well as all of us, that He is more than an ordinary man. Therefore, when we see Jesus on a cross on the mountain of Calvary, we need to remember that no ordinary man is hanging there. We understand that Jesus is the God-man, and this has many implications for his crucifixion. One is that as God and man, Jesus is able to accomplish the salvation of the human race there on that cross. Another is that as God and man, Jesus is not defeated on the cross. The grave will not be able to hold onto him, and he will rise from the dead.
As we go through Lent, let us remember the transfiguration. There is a reality about Jesus that is usually hidden, but in the transfiguration, we get a glimpse. In the same way, the reality of the Church, the body of Christ, is ordinarily hidden. The grace that God bestows on us and the realities of the sacraments, especially Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist, are all hidden from our senses, but that does not make them any less real. Jesus showed Peter, James, and John this glimpse of who he really is in order to help them get through the trials that were ahead of them. We need to remember the transfiguration, and the other truths of our faith, as we face the trials that are in our lives, especially in this season of Lent. May we have the faith of Abraham and know that no matter what the circumstances look like, God will be true to his promises, and he will always provide what we need in this life, until he has brought us home with him in heaven.