We are never separated from God's love

  • March 1, 2009
Second Sunday of Lent (Year B) March 8 (Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8:31-35, 37; Mark 9:2-10)

Most people keep a death grip on all that they hold dear. They live in dread and fear of losing possession, loved ones, relationships and personal achievements. It is the driving force behind much of our fear-filled and selfish behaviour.

We would be horrified if we were asked to give our most cherished things back — but that is exactly what happened to Abraham. The sacrifice of Isaac formed the basis of early Christian interpretations of the death of Jesus. “God” asks Abraham to sacrifice his long-awaited beloved son. To make the demand even more poignant, this son also represents Abraham’s posterity and immortality through his descendants. But without a word of protest Abraham sets out to do exactly as “God” demands.

There are problems with the story — what sort of God would ask for such a sacrifice and what sort of parent would obey? There are many tragic instances of parents harming or killing their children in the belief that it was commanded by “God” or heavenly voices. Perhaps Abraham’s experience and knowledge of God was such that he knew that God would never allow the unthinkable to happen.

But the story makes more sense when we remember that many peoples in the ancient world practised some form of human sacrifice at one time or another and the firstborn child was usually the likely candidate. It is possible that Abraham’s perception of God and his understanding of his obligation was coloured by his time and culture.

Nonetheless we would not hold up the story as it stands as a model for our own time. It is sufficient for us to be aware of Abraham’s absolute trust in God and his willingness to give back to God his long-awaited beloved son. Do not cling to anything — even life itself — out of possessiveness or fear. God’s generosity knows no bounds but God cannot fill our hands with gifts if they are already filled and closed.

Paul’s words are a song of joy and triumph. God is not our adversary, nor is God waiting to clobber us with judgment and punishment. In fact, God’s love for us is such that He was willing to suffer pain and loss for our sake by giving up His only son.

Regardless of what we experience in the way of life’s pain and struggle we are never separated from the love of Christ. Do we really act like we are free from condemnation or that we are infinitely and unconditionally loved? If Christians really believed that in their heart of hearts perhaps our religion would be a more joyful and liberating experience.  Being a “conqueror” through Christ does not mean domination but never giving up. We are empowered by the one who has already won the victory on our behalf. We need only follow in His footsteps and live in faith.

The mountaintop was the biblical place of revelation and encounter with the divine. As Jesus takes His inner circle onto a high mountain, they get the shock of their lives. Jesus is transfigured before them and radiates with a dazzling white light.

Not only that, Jesus is talking to Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the miracle-worker and prophet as they probably offer consolation and encouragement for the ordeal ahead.

Jesus stands in continuity and solidarity with all who have gone before Him for He is very much a Jewish prophet and Messiah. God is always on the move and will not be localized or managed as a terrified Peter suggests by his insistence on building structures around their encounter with God. The voice from the cloud is addressed to all who claim to follow Jesus — listen to Him. And it is at this point in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus begins to speak of His impending suffering and death in Jerusalem and the demands of discipleship — taking up one’s cross. The disciples at Jesus’ side did not understand what He was talking about nor did they have a clue about the Resurrection.

They found the talk of suffering unsettling and frightening. And 20 centuries later we still do not fully comprehend what Jesus is asking of us: to trust God and be willing to put everything on the line for the sake of love, justice and the good of humanity.