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February 25  2018 2nd Sunday of Lent (B)

A. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection and Dialogue: Transfigured in Christ. Confirmed in the faith.

C. The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

 First Reading (Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18. The sacrifice of Abraham, our father in faith. The story in Genesis 22:1-19 is regarded as one of the most brilliantly told narratives of the entire book of Genesis. As a story it is marvellously crafted. It has invited, and received, attention and interpretations from great religious minds, scholars and artists from the author of the Letter to the Hebrews (Hebrews 11:17-19) to our own day. It raises many questions, such as why God should demand such a sacrifice, not just of a firstborn but the one through he had pledged the promises would be fulfilled. Some believe that what is intended is a condemnation of the sacrifice of the firstborn son, which however was not a practice in Israel. There is no indication that the author had this in mind. Whatever about a remote background, in the present narrative the beginning and the ending is clear: God was testing Abraham. The suspense in the narrative comes from this, because Abraham did not know it was a test. The text brings out Abraham’s obedience, and the divine blessing and promises that come at the end of the account. Abraham is an outstanding example of the “cloud of witnesses” of which the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks (Hebrews 12:1): “By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac. He who had received the promises was ready to offer his only son, of whom he had been told, ‘It is through Isaac that descendents shall be named for you’. He considered the fact that God is able go raise someone from the dead – and figuratively speaking he did receive him back”. At the end God blesses Abraham. All nations of the earth shall be blessed as a reward of his obedience. This passage, which Jews refer to as the “Binding of Isaac” (from a reference to Abraham’s action in Genesis 22:9), was central to Jewish tradition. They considered this “Binding” as constantly interceding for them before God in time of distress. God would look on Abraham’s sacrifice and save them.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 115). I trusted in the Lord when I said “I am sorely afflicted”.

Second Reading (Romans 8:31-34). God who did not spare his own Son for our sake will save us. John 3:16 has Jesus say to Nicodemus “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life”. Paul is thinking along the same lines in this beautiful reading. A little earlier he had said: “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose”. Paul was well aware of the harsh realities of life and of Christian living. He had experienced many of them, and will mention them a little later: hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or even the sword. But Christian hope overcomes all these. It is based on reality, the reality of God’s love made manifest in the death of his own beloved Son, for our sakes.

Gospel (Mark 9_2-10). The transfiguration of Christ. Just as the temptation of Jesus is always read on the first Sunday of Lent, so is that of the Transfiguration in the second. This episode took place after Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus as the messiah at Caesarea Philippi, and Jesus’ reminder to the crowd and his disciples of the necessity of taking up one’s cross and following him. The reference “after six days” possibly refers back to the confession of faith at Caesarea Philippi. No name is given for the “high mountain”; if any is intended it is Hermon, in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi,  rather than Tabor. The mountain is a place of nearness to God. Jesus was transfigured. Mark expresses the change by the dazzling white clothes. It is a vision of Jesus as he would later appear after the resurrection. Elijah represents the prophets, Moses the Law (generally given in the reverse order). The tents for Peter would have recalled the Feast of Booths, Tabernacles; but here the reference possibly merely expresses a desire to remain in the happy condition. Suddenly they are alone; heaven and the Father are made present in the cloud. The Father’s voice is now (unlike at baptism) is addressed to the three apostles. Peter confessed Jesus as the messiah; now the Father introduces him as his beloved Son, and attested spokesperson. Peter and the two others did not quite understand what had happened or what Jesus’ reference to his resurrection meant. They later would. See the “dialogue” below.

C. The Bible in Dialogue with Questions of the Day. Transfigured in Christ. Confirmed in the faith.

The church in her liturgy celebrates a feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord on August 6. This mystery is also recalled today, but in the context of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, Calvary and the resurrection on Easter morning. Biblical and Jewish tradition looked forward to the transfiguration of the bodies of the just in the world to come, a faith shared by the New Testament (see 1 Corinthians 15:40-44; 2 Corinthians 3:18). This transformation was already taking place on earth, where under the influence of the Spirit of the risen Lord believers are being transformed into the image of the Lord Jesus, from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). Believers in Christ should offer a spiritual sacrifice of a Christian life to God, by not conforming to this world but by being transformed by the renewal of their minds (Romans 12:2).

            At the original Transfiguration of Christ on the holy mountain, neither Peter nor the two others seem to have understood the significance of the event. They appear to have received no inner experience, vision or enlightenment. They did not know what to say, nor quite understand what Jesus’ words about “rising from the dead” meant. This was before the resurrection and the appearances of the risen Lord. It seems to have been different with Paul and his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road. Writing to the Corinthians on the experience of Christian faith, and the apostles’ mission to proclaim not themselves but the Lord Jesus, Paul writes: “For its is the God who said, ‘Let light shine ut of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Paul had got that vision of the glory of God revealed in the face of the Lord Jesus at the initial encounter. It gave him the certainty of faith on a number of issues: of the glory of the risen Jesus, the Lord, at the right hand of the Father; of Christ as fulfilment of the Scriptures, of God’s promises to his people. Christ is God’s Amen to all the promises. In him every one of the promises is a “Yes”, an Amen (2 Corinthians 1:20-22). The encounter with Christ gave him certainty about his own mission and assurance that God gives certainty and the same vision of faith to all believers.

            Peter, too, must have come to the same understanding of the significance of that initial Transfiguration scene later. As he is about to pass from this world, the writer of the Second Letter of Peter, in the name of Peter, reminds his readers of earlier mysteries. He writes (2 Peter 1:16-18):For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honour and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, ‘This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.” That event gives the apostles and the church confidence to speak with courage, and the need of honesty and transparency in their mission.

          As was the case with Paul, on seeing the glory of God in the face of the Lord Jesus, it also gave certainty that Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures, Prophets and Law, represented by Elijah and Moses on the Mount. 2 Peter continues in 2 Peter 1:19-21: “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

            This Sunday readings and the transfiguration scene give us all a message and a call for our own day -- to be confirmed in the faith of Christ. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son for us (a mystery prefigured by Abraham and Isaac) to show his love and commitment to each one of us. The Transfiguration is a mystery for us too, to see the place of Scripture in our life. All Scripture is inspired by the Spirit of God; it links us with the past and confirms us in the faith for any difficulties in the present.