The Lectionary for Sunday Mass excerpts the passage from Genesis which tells the story of the sacrifice of Isaac that is asked of Abraham. By only reading part of the story, the focus becomes Abraham and his obedience. However, that is only one side of the story.
Abram was seventy-five years old when he left Ur of the Chaldees and settled in Canaan. Twenty-five years later, when Abraham was 100 years old, Isaac was born. When Isaac had reached puberty, he was sent from his mother’s side to live with his father and the other male members of the household. So we know that he was already a fairly strong, young man when his father takes him to Mt. Moriah to sacrifice him. While the story accentuates Abraham’s faith and his obedience of God’s will, it also speaks volumes about Isaac who allows his feeble, old father to bind him and place him on the altar. Despite the fact that Isaac knew what his father was about to do, he also displayed loyalty and obedience to his father.
The story is a prefigurement of the sacrifice of Jesus on Mt. Calvary. God sacrificed his only begotten Son for the remission of our sins. However, Jesus, like Isaac, willingly gives his life for us. Just as Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice on his back to Mt. Moriah, Jesus carried the cross on his back to Mt. Calvary.
I am sure that parents read the story of the sacrifice of Isaac with horror. How could a parent do such a thing? We hear stories of abused children in our own day and age; but even though we have witnessed this kind of thing before, we still react with incredulity at Abraham’s actions and the actions of some parents in our own time. Scripture scholars suggest that Abraham may have misunderstood God’s command. Surely God would not have asked such a thing.
The text is quite clear, however. Abraham is stopped just as he is about to strike the death blow. Isaac is spared. The story resolves with a happy ending. Even in the case of Jesus’ sacrifice, although he does die on the cross, the story resolves happily with the Resurrection. The Gospel for this Sunday gives us a glimpse of the glory that Jesus will experience as a result of his willingness to obey the will of God. The transfiguration is a foretaste of that glory.
Peter’s reaction to this event is predictable. Seeing his Master glorified and flanked by Moses and Elijah must have been an exquisite experience. Who wouldn’t want this experience to continue indefinitely? So he proposes that they stay atop that hill and bask in the reflected glory of the Transfiguration. As is so often the case with Peter, he fails to understand. Jesus insists that they return to the everyday life awaiting them at the foot of the mountain. The Transfiguration of Jesus teaches us in no uncertain terms that we have been placed here in our everyday struggle to transform our lives and our world by our faith in God. Just as Abraham changed the course of history and advanced the story of salvation by his faith, we are to do the same.
Changing the world is surely beyond our capabilities. Is it really? What would happen to our world if each of us would change? Each year we hear this story on the second Sunday of Lent. Each year we enter into this season charged to repent and to believe the Gospel. God has rescued us from sin. Yet we find it difficult to escape the clutches of Old Nick, the enticements of the world, the tendency to advance our own cause and to forget the needs of others. We keep putting off the need for change, for conversion, for repentance.
God has done so much for us by sending his Son among us to take on the burden of our sins. St. Paul reminds us that if we place our faith in Jesus, nothing can harm us. God has acquitted us. Jesus has accepted the punishment for our sins. Just as Peter was tempted to remove himself from the fray of confronting the problems of day to day life, we are tempted to divorce ourselves from the need to engage the world with the power to transform that our faith gives us.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator