March 2, 2012

Second Sunday in Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Genesis is the source of this weekend's first reading.

Often, Genesis is associated with its Creation Narratives since these particular sections of the book have prompted such warfare among those of varying opinions as to their interpretation.

However, much else is included in Genesis. A major figure is Abraham. Historians and biblical scholars agree that Abraham actually lived. He was not a myth or the product of imagination. He lived very long ago.

Historically, Jews have regarded Abraham as the first of their race. In a theological sense, Christians see Abraham as the first of their race because Christians believe that their religion flows from the Revelation initially given by God to the Jews.

This weekend's reading is very familiar. Abraham leads his beloved son, Isaac, to the top of a high mountain to kill him there as a sacrifice to God. As is well known, God intervenes and orders Abraham to spare Isaac.

The story has several lessons. One lesson, usually overlooked, is the repudiation of human sacrifice by none other than God. Human sacrifice, in and of itself, was forever abhorrent to Jews, but was very much a part of the ritual of pagans who lived around the Jews.

Another feature of pagan worship was to conduct ceremonies, including sacrifices, on the top of high mountains.

Therefore, beyond sparing Isaac, beyond rejecting human sacrifice, in this story God draws Abraham, and all people, away from the error of paganism.

Instead, they learn from God about the best and true order of creation. God is the best teacher, and God provides for the people.

Isaac is a figure who, for Christians in later centuries, in a sense symbolizes Jesus. As was Isaac, Jesus was the sacrifice, killed by the ignorance and baseness of humans. However, Jesus did not die forever.

St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans furnishes the second reading.

Always, inevitably, in his writings, Paul encouraged and reinforced his disciples in their faith. This section from Romans is no exception.

Typically straightforward and clear, this reading simply says that if the power of God and the light of God are with us, nothing can prevail against us.

The Gospel of St. Mark provides the last reading.

As was the case with the Old Testament reading from Genesis, which is this weekend's first reading, this New Testament selection is very familiar. It is the story of the Transfiguration.

In this story, Jesus takes Peter, James and John to the summit of a high mountain. There, in an overwhelming, stupendous and even terrifying appearance, Jesus is transfigured. He becomes visible to the Apostles as the Son of God.

Light is everywhere. In the Old Testament, God is associated with light. Indeed, the presence of God constitutes the difference between darkness and light. God is the Lord of life and of light.

Mountaintops are the places on Earth that are nearest to heaven. In a hopeful, awkward attempt to come as close as possible to God, humans climbed to the tops of mountains.

Indeed, the temple in Jerusalem was built at the summit of Mount Zion. Jesus was crucified on a hilltop. He ascended from a hilltop.

In this reading, all earthly fogs and veils are cast down. Jesus appears in the reality of divinity. In this divinity is eternal life itself.

The presence of Moses and Elijah indicate that Jesus is fully and absolutely in the historic train of God's communication with and the salvation of God's people.

Reflection

The newness of Lent has ended. This weekend, we are observing the second Sunday of the season.

Now, the Church leads us in earnest into this period to prepare for Holy Week and Easter.

Its message is simple. It is profound. God is everything. We are humans, and we are limited. Always, amid our limitations, and to relieve us in our limitations, God has provided for us.

God provided for Abraham. God spared Isaac, but only after being assured of Abraham's unflinching faith.

Faith is indispensable in our search for and our path to God.

Faith is the opposite of selfishness and of foolishly over-exaggerating our limited human abilities.

God is in Jesus. Jesus is Lord. This is the great message of the Transfiguration given us this weekend in St. Mark's Gospel.

It was St. Paul's word to the Christian Romans. If we have Jesus, we have God. And in God, we lack nothing.

So, with this assurance and challenge, the Church this weekend prepares us for the season of Lent. †

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