2nd Sunday of Lent
Today’s readings are, as so often, an invitation to contemplative musing. You can look at what is being told here in different ways, marvel at it. Or, perhaps, recoil in horror at the horrific story of what is called in Jewish tradition the “binding of Isaac.” How is it possible that this story made its way into the Bible? And then what is its link with that wonderful vision – the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain?
I’ve struggled with it, ruminated on it, chewed it.
A possible approach seems to me to consider both stories as an exercise, or more especially an invitation, to learn to see. To learn to see better and better with the eyes of the heart, with the slow loving gaze of a contemplative heart, so as to learn to look beyond the visible – the ‘inside of the outside’.
The story of Abraham and Isaac initially evokes a reaction of total perplexity. How in God’s name is this possible? That question arises even when you consider that child sacrifice was no exception in the culture of the time. Moreover, had Abraham not been promised that his descendants would be as numerous as the sand of the sea and the stars in heaven? And then he is asked to surrender his only son ……. That can’t be true, can it?
Looking beyond the horror of this story what comes into sight? The authoritative Jewish rabbi Jonathan Sachs puts this very delicately: “Many answers have been offered over the generations, but one transcends all others: We cherish what we wait for and what we most risk losing. Life is full of wonders. And the birth of a child is a miracle. Yet, precisely because these things are natural, we take them for granted, forgetting that nature has an architect, and history an author”.
In this way this disturbing story becomes an invitation to look at life in wonder and to see it as a gift.
Learning to see.
That also is a significant theme in today’s gospel.
“He changed form before their eyes,” it says.
“When they came down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen.”
Most of the time, as we read this gospel, our focus is on Jesus: how He was transfigured. But who actually changes on top of that mountain? Notice the apostles. Isn’t something happening there with their eyes, with their ability to see, with their consciousness?
Mark places the story of Jesus’ transfiguration immediately after the prophecy that there will be among his hearers those who will see God’s kingship coming in power.
God’s kingship in power.
Those words pertain to Jesus’ ability to remain faithful. Remain true to his love for the Father in spite of everything. To remain faithful in spite of the cross that he will find in his way. The cross is the barren exterior – a human being humbled, crushed and trampled underfoot, a worm, no more human.
Anyone who is able to continue to see his faithfulness to God through the harsh exterior of Jesus’ suffering will see that there – on the inside – God is king.
For a moment, there on the mountain, the apostles get an insight into that divine ‘inside’ of Jesus.
“He changed form before their eyes,
His clothes started to shine bright white. ”
They will carry that glimpse of the inside with them when they later experience in Gethsemani the total upheaval, the outside, the suffering, the abandonment of God, the death. It will lead them to believe in the resurrection – when the inside will shine unimpeded through the exterior with the light of Easter.
The two key figures of the first covenant, conversing with Jesus in the vision on the mountain: Moses and Elijah – they stand for the Law and the Prophets. Both have similar experiences. They too have learned to see. The inside of the mystery through the outside. Moses spectacularly so on Mount Sinai. Elijah more subdued in ‘the sound of pure silence’ on Mount Horeb.
And so we are invited on this second Sunday of Lent to go that way too.
“Listen to Him.”
If you do that, you will get an eye for the inside.
Learn to listen. And learn to see.
The ‘inside through the outside’.
The Lord comes to us “not from above, but from within,” Pope Francis writes in his beautiful encyclical Laudato Si “.
In a sublime reflection on the Eucharist, he states:
“The Lord, at the height of the mystery of the Incarnation, wanted to reach our inside through a piece of matter. Not from above, but from within, so that we might meet Him in our own world ”.
That is the mystique of Laudato Si ‘.
May that also be our experience in this Eucharist: God’s inside in communication with our inside. Then we too will be transfigured.
Fons Eppink mhm