Lent reminds us we are not alone in our quest for understanding
The first reading and the Gospel are powerful and puzzling. Both are important narratives, but they often lead to more questions than answers. These texts remind us to read and reflect on Scripture, pray for clarity and be comfortable with the unknowability of some things.
They kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant. (Mk 9:10)
Are you open to answering God’s call?
Whom do you consult for guidance and clarity?
Does Scripture help you to pray and reflect on God?
In the first reading, we hear of Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, an act often interpreted as a sign of faith. After God enables Abraham and Sarah to have Isaac in their old age, God instructs Abraham to sacrifice him. This request seems counterintuitive to the biblical narrative since Isaac is the son of the covenant. Moreover and even more alarming, it is contrary to a parent’s responsibility to protect a child and suggests that God desires human sacrifice. Yet, Abraham acquiesces, never questioning God’s plan. This could reveal Abraham’s commitment and understanding of Isaac as a blessing from God, or it could show his lack of regard for Isaac’s life. Likewise, this might seem like an unreasonable test of faith that God sets for Abraham. As Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, God intercedes and substitutes a ram, an act often interpreted as a sign of divine disapproval of human sacrifice.
The theological and philosophical complexities have been debated for centuries and continue to pose challenges. Although Abraham demonstrates extreme faith and trust in God, his actions certainly should not be imitated. The narrative may present such a challenging request to emphasize the importance of devotion and obedience. The angel affirms this by declaring: “I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”
The narrative is also a reminder to be open and attentive to God. On three occasions, Abraham responds, “Hineni” (“Here I am”) in answer to God, Isaac and the angel. Recall the story of Samuel’s prophetic call (read this year on the Second Sunday in Ordinary Time) and his multiple responses of hineni. While Abraham may not be a model of parental responsibility, he is a model for openness and acknowledgment of divine power. The story also offers notable parallels to God’s sacrifice of Jesus, his only begotten son, a juxtaposition that is worthy of prayer and reflection especially during Lent.
In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of the transfiguration, in which Jesus’ physical appearance is transformed and his connection to the prophets Moses and Elijah is confirmed by a vision. The appearance of Elijah is particularly important as his return was expected to herald the Messiah. Likewise, according to tradition, Elijah did not die but ascended into heaven in a fiery whirlwind (2 Kings 2:1-12), a reference that could help Jesus’ followers understand the resurrection.
Peter, James and John witness the Transfiguration and react with shock and awe. Peter suggests building three tents, which suggests that he wants to commemorate this location with moveable shrines. The apostles also hear a declaration from heaven that Jesus is the beloved Son of God, to whom they should listen, an echo from Jesus’ baptism. At the end of the transfiguration, Jesus tells them not to reveal the event until after the resurrection, but the apostles are perplexed, “questioning what rising from the dead meant.” The uncertainty of the apostles is refreshing, as the events that they witness are difficult to fully comprehend. As we continue our Lenten journey, we can be inspired by today’s readings, which remind us that we are not alone in our quest for understanding and clarity, and we should invest time in critically studying and praying.