Jesus atop the mountain with Moses and Elijah. Photo from Facebook

God's Word on Sunday: We enter this world only by the grace of God

  • February 23, 2024

Second Sunday of Lent (Year B) Feb. 25 (Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8:31b-35, 37; Mark 9:2-10)

The story of the sacrifice of Isaac is one of the weirdest and most disturbing stories in the Bible. Isaac was the long-promised son and heir — the promise that had kept Abraham and Sarah going for so many years. And now God was commanding Abraham to sacrifice his son — just like so many of the other forms of religious worship in that time.

Not only was the divine order immoral from the human point of view, but it also made no sense. Why give the long-awaited gift and then snatch it away?

But then again, the sacrifice of Jesus the Son made little sense either. The sacrifice of Isaac was seen as the foreshadowing of the crucifixion. In both cases, however, it was the absolute obedience and trust in God that initiated and accomplished the redemption of humanity.

In the story, we have no insight into Abraham’s thoughts, feeling or emotions. That would be left for later midrashic elaborations of the text. Did Abraham know God so well that he was absolutely certain that God would not allow him to harm his son? That is a somewhat satisfying but unproven hypothesis.

The importance of the story is that Abraham did not withhold from God that which was most precious to him — his son. He recognized that Isaac did not belong to him, any more than anything belongs to us. All is gift from God, and gifts are not to be hoarded or clung to. We must be prepared and willing to release our grip on what God has given us, confident that we will not be bereft or shortchanged. We came into this world with nothing, and we leave with nothing, except for the wisdom we have gained and the love that we have given and received. We can trust God; God will never let us down.   

This is echoed in the Letter to the Romans. Paul realized that the generosity and kindness of God in not withholding His son was proof of God’s love and our salvation. We need not fear condemnation or separation from the love of Christ. We will not be defeated by any negative forces because we are conquerors through the infinite love of Jesus. This is something to contemplate and pray over as we face the insecurities and fears of the age in which we live.

Peter, James and John had no idea what Jesus had in store for them when He led them up the mountain that night. They got the shock and scare of their lives, as they discovered that there is a very thin veil between this world and the next. Jesus was surrounded by a brilliant white light and was talking with Moses and Elijah. They had a glimpse of both the realm of the Spirit and the divine presence in Jesus. But they did not understand a thing. Peter interpreted the vision according to the standard religious traditions and blurted out a proposal to build three shrines to commemorate the occasion.

At that point they were overshadowed by a dark cloud. Ironically, an encounter with God was often an occasion of darkness. Mount Sinai was covered with darkness and thunder as Moses received the commandments from God. There was also a voice from the cloud reaffirming Jesus’ status as son and beloved of God. It was the same voice and message that was heard at the baptism of Jesus.

Many profess belief in who Jesus is but falter in the second part — the commandment to listen to Him rather than the voices of the world. We are not good at listening, either to one another or to the Lord. As the experience passed, Jesus warned them not to breathe a word until He had risen from the dead. At this point, they did not understand what rising from the dead meant but they would in time.

There is still much that we do not understand fully. We need to constantly reflect on our experience in light of the Spirit. We do ourselves, other people and the Lord a great disservice by claiming to know more than we do and refusing to see things in any other way. God always has more to teach us, but we need to listen.