The Second Sunday of Lent
March 8, 2009
Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 (Abraham nearly sacrifices Isaac)
Psalm 116:10, 15, 16-17, 18-19 (My vows to the Lord I will pay in the presence of all his people)
Romans 8:31b-34 (If God is for us, who can be against us?)
Mark 9:2-10 (also Matthew 17:1-13 or Luke 9:28-36, The Transfiguration)
In the last couple of postings I've considered that some of what we're handed in life might seem like some sort of cruelty in which God takes delight. Today's first reading possibly falls into that category.
Let me put the whole picture in front of you. Abraham and wife Sarah have been childless for years. According to the text, Sarah's now well past child-bearing years and Abraham's been left to sire heirs through slaves and concubines, just so that what he possesses can be handed to someone someday. One day, a messenger/angel from God visits the couple and announces that Sarah herself will give birth to a son within a year. There's a bit of a “yeah, right” attitude hinted, but the couple has faith (amongst other things), and sure enough, Issac is born. Now if you've read ahead in the Bible, you know that Isaac is the father of Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel – the descendants “as numerous as the heavens” that Abraham was promised.
So why does an all-loving God ask Abraham to sacrifice his 'only' son (through his natural wife) on a mountainside altar? And why does Abraham even agree to it? Does he in his old age have Alzheimer's Disease??
No, Abraham has faith. After all, Abraham's already witnessed first-hand fulfillment of a promise in the very birth of Isaac, in a scenario few would have believed possible. Why shouldn't he trust in God's plan, whatever it might be? Ultimately, and in dramatic fashion, Issac is spared; and God vests in the pair the future nation of Israel.
And God did provide another sacrifice: not just the ram on Abraham's mountainside, but a living sacrifice on a hillside near Jerusalem much, much later.
It seems Abraham was blessed enough to see through the veil of earthly existence and know it was God at work, and that God wouldn't let him down. What happens, though, when the object is not quite so obvious about who he is? That brings us to the transfiguration of Jesus, in today's Gospel reading.
It's not like there was no warning. By this point in Mark's narrative, Jesus has already performed a host of miracles and teachings. Matthew and Luke include the unusual events surrounding his birth, his early life, and his 'baptism' by John at the River Jordan. So it seemed to be about time for Jesus to give those closest to him – Peter, James, and John – a bit of divine inside information. To reveal himself as the Son of God, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the prophet taken bodily to heaven in a chariot of fire) appear with Jesus. Mark says that the three were holding a conversation. I can only guess how that conversation went or what it was possibly about. We're not given an opportunity to figure it out, for the next thing you know, there's Peter with a brilliant observation; almost as brilliant as the dazzling white no fuller could bleach.
“Lord, it is good that we are here!” (You've got that right.)
If that was all he'd said, it would still have been a Kodak moment; but then he turns it into Whose Line Is It Anyway? by adding: “Let us make three tents...”
And that's just what we would do, isn't it? Only today, it might be one shrine for the Catholics; one for the Methodists; and one for the Lutherans. (The rest of you are just out of luck.) Or, if it was strictly among Catholics, it could be one out of straw for the Franciscans, one out of sticks for the Dominicans, and one out of bricks (which the Devil himself couldn't huff, puff, or blow down) for the Jesuits. Yep, that's exactly what we would do.
Mark isn't just writing about the initial reaction of the three primary apostles; he's writing about our reaction, too. If we were to see something like this, we wouldn't keep it quiet until the proper time, as Jesus recommended. We go and invite the media, tell our side of the story as a live witness in front of every camera and microphone that could get squeezed into the space. Some might dismiss us as being lost in the head. Others though, would question the whole thing ad nauseam, including a lengthy analysis over what could possibly be meant by “rising from the dead.”
Zombies to walk the earth?? Andy Rooney has the story tonight on '60 Minutes.'
Some day we will look back on falling all over ourselves and each other and have one of the loudest, healthiest laughs the world has ever known.