Scripture: Lectionary #26, Second Sunday of Lent, March 4, 20012 (B Cycle): Genesis 22:1-2, 9. 10-13,15-18. Psalm 116:10.15.16-17.18-19. Romans 8:31-34. Mark 9:2-10
Our deepest relationship with God is presented in the first reading and carries through in the rest of the readings from Paul, the Psalmist, and the Gospel of Mark. We focus on the relationship as a son or daughter to their Father. Like Jesus who is declared the beloved, we, too, are the beloved ones of God when we recognize, accept, and live out the relationship with God in a pure, an honest, and an intimate way. We listen carefully to the word of God to learn more about the test of this relationship (as in Genesis 22), then in the response in loving prayer our loving dependence on God (Psalm 116); next, in Paul, we experience the power of the relationship as a son or daughter; finally, in the Transfiguration we have the living voice of God declaring that Jesus is the beloved of God: “This is my son, the beloved. Listen to him.”
In Genesis we learn how Abraham’s obedient love for God surpasses the love he has for Isaac when he is put to the “test.” Abraham has a personal covenantal relationship with God whom he trusts above all his human considerations. But what a“test.” It is the most difficult test in the Hebrew Scriptures. It could be from Abraham being influenced by the culture around him which accepted human sacrifice or what he thought God was telling him. The divine intervention overcomes whatever may have brought about this willingness to sacrifice his son and Abraham offers an acceptable sacrifice in offering the ram caught in the brambles. Don’t we sometimes make impossible promises to God and think they come from God? Nevertheless, the episode is one of the most heart-wrenching ones in the history of religions.
In Judaism this passage is called the “Akedah” which means the “binding” of Isaac. It is symbolic of the martyrs of Israel and Judaism at the hand of their oppressors. The word is found in verse 9 of our passage from the Hebrew stem (‘akad). It is with the Akedah that the spiritual odyssey of Abraham comes to an end. It had begun at his been called from Haran.
The concept of child sacrifice is abhorrent and has never been a part of the Jewish religion nor of the Christian religion. Naturally, as Christians we reread this passage in the light of Jesus being bound to the cross by nails as a martyr and as a sacrificial offering to the Father for the sins of the world. The parallels are not the same even though the typology of seeing Isaac as a foreshadowing of Jesus death is presented by the early Christian writers of the third and fourth centuries. Jesus is an adult and the story of Isaac seems to present him as a young boy who is obedient and loving of his father Abraham. Jesus was in full command of his own destiny and was led to it by his adversaries who misunderstood him or saw him as a threat to the political situation of the Romans. Jesus himself gave up his life freely realizing this could happen and even on several occasions foretold it to his unbelieving disciples that this could happen.
We the readers know the full story of both Abraham and Jesus through the inspired writers. Abraham did not have this knowledge that helps us remove any possible misunderstanding of this passage. It was a “test.”
Both Jesus and Abraham bring us to pray over these passages in order to understand what they mean for us. John Paul II put the scene of Jesus’ Transfiguration in the fourth mystery of the Luminous Mysteries of the Rosary. It is fitting that we contemplate both episodes together and deepen our faith in the Paschal Mysteries of the suffering, death, and resurrection of the Lord. We therefore pray, “Lord Jesus Christ, help us to be “transformed” into you through the Scriptures, the Sacraments, and our prayer, fasting, and generous gift of self to others. Yes, Lord our God, for us to live is to be one with you as your beloved sons and daughters. Amen.”