This Sunday as we begin the second week of Lent, the readings call us to walk by faith and follow the ways of the Spirit rather than the ways of the flesh. We are called to see the glory hidden in the humanity of Jesus as did Peter, James and John on the mountain of transfiguration. We are called to recognize the presence of God in His promises even when, like Abraham, we cannot see how they can be fulfilled by doing what God asks of us. In many ways the readings deal with pressing on in the face of uncertainty and doubt. The desire to walk in the spirit is exactly what this year’s Lenten readings call us to do.
First Reading: Genesis 22: 1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
1 Some time after these events, God put Abraham to the test. He called to him, “Abraham!” “Ready!” he replied. 2 Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.” [3 Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey, took with him his son Isaac, and two of his servants as well, and with the wood that he had cut for the holocaust, set out for the place of which God had told him. 4 On the third day Abraham got sight of the place from afar. 5 Then he said to his servants: “Both of you stay here with the donkey, while the boy and I go on over yonder. We will worship and then come back to you.” 6 Thereupon Abraham took the wood for the holocaust and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulders, while he himself carried the fire and the knife. 7 As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham. “Father!” he said. “Yes, son,” he replied. Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?” 8 “Son,” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.” Then the two continued going forward.]
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. [Next he tied up his son Isaac, and put him on top of the wood on the altar.] 10 Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the LORD’S messenger called to him from heaven, “Abraham, Abraham!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 12 “Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger. “Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” 13 As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son. [14 Abraham named the site Yahweh-yireh; hence people now say, “On the mountain the LORD will see.”]
15 Again the LORD’S messenger called to Abraham from heaven 16 and said: “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, 17 I will bless you abundantly and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore; your descendants shall take possession of the gates of their enemies, 18 and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing–all this because you obeyed my command.”
NOTES on First Reading:
* 22:1 “After these things” is a phrase that is used as a conventional introduction to a new section. The term, “God tested” is used only here in Genesis and only here in the Pentateuch with an individual as the object. Everywhere else God tests the People of Israel ( Ex 15:25; 16:4; Deut 8:2, 16; 13:4; 33:8). The usual context of testing is Israel in the wilderness being tested so that its orientation toward or away from God becomes manifest. The test proved the firmness of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise, for God had promised Abraham that through Isaac all the nations of the earth would find blessing. See Genesis 18:10,18; 21:12.
The phrase, “here I am,” is a statement of complete availability (Isa 6:8).
* 22:2 Beloved son is a better translation than only son in this case. The name, Moriah, only occurs one other time (2 Chron 3:1) in the Bible where it is identified as the mountain of Jerusalem where Solomon builds the temple. Thus Abraham is the first to worship on the Temple mount. The name is a play on the Hebrew word “to see.” God will see to the offering. Abraham obeys immediately and in silence. The reader must infer his feelings since Abraham says nothing.
* 22:4 This is probably the halfway point in a seven day journey to the mountain and back.
* 22:5 Abraham left his household and now he leaves his two servants and goes alone with Issac to face God.
* 22:6 Much later, Christians would see a parallel between Jesus carrying the cross and Issac carrying the wood for the sacrifice on his shoulder.
* 22:7 Abraham’s response to his son’s question has been interpreted not so much as a ruse but rather as a sign of his leaving everything in the hands of God.
* 22:11 The angel of Yahweh had called from heaven and opened the eyes of Hagar to see the well (21:17-19). This same angel now stops Abraham from inflicting death and mediates God’s word and action.
* 22:12 God’s judgment in the voice of the angel acknowledges Abraham’s total obedience and that Abraham truly fears God, for he has not withheld his beloved son. Abraham has learned to give up control over his life to God so that he may receive it and everything in it as grace.
* 22:13 A sacrificial ram is provided by God. This story operates on two levels. The older context of the story is one presenting the prohibition of infant sacrifice. This had always been rejected by the religion and the God of Israel even though it was very common in the neighboring countries. The first -born of both man and beast belonged to God but while the animals were sacrificed the first-born children must be redeemed with an animal sacrifice. In spite of this prohibition there were times in Israel’s history when child sacrifice was practiced by some in Israel as the polemic against it (2 Kings 16:3; Mica 6:7) shows.
The second context of the story and perhaps its chief point is one presenting it in the context of the promises of God to Abraham. Yahweh “will see to” everything.
* 22:14-18 These verses point to the fact that God will take care of everything and that all we need to do is obey. It was Abraham’s unreserved trust in Yahweh that is being rewarded in this listing of the blessing God will give him and his descendants. This is the seventh time that the promises to Abraham are given in Genesis.
* 22:14 Yahweh-yireh is a Hebrew expression meaning “the Lord will see.” The reference is to the words in Genesis 22:8, “God himself will see to it.”
Second Reading: Romans 8: 31b-34
(Brothers and Sisters:) 31 [What then shall we say to this?] If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?
33 Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. 34 Who will condemn? It is Christ (Jesus) who died, rather, was raised, who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.
NOTES on Second Reading:
* 8:31 The beginning words in parentheses are added by the Lectionary to help the reader understand that this is an exhortation to the congregation. The portion in square brackets is left out of the reading.
* 8:31-39 This section is a rhetorical passage about the love of God made manifest in God’s own Son being delivered up to death for their salvation. It deals with how the all-conquering power of God’s love has overcome every obstacle to salvation of believers and every threat to separate them from God. Through Jesus, Christians can overcome all their afflictions and trials.
Paul uses the terminology of the law court as in the debates of Job or Chapter 3 of Zechariah. God’s plan of salvation has made it clear to Christians that God is on their side.
* 8:32 This is probably a reference to Gen 22:16 where Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac, the child of the covenant. God has already pronounced His decision in our favor and there is no reason to expect that He will change His mind.
* 8:32-35 This is a series of rhetorical questions but the punctuation is disputed by some scholars. The Revised Standard Version (RSV) has a different punctuation.
* 8:34 Paul turns our attention to the resurrection. Jesus, having been raised and exalted, still continues to intercede for us at the right hand of the Father. In Heb 7:255; 9:24 this intercession is linked to Christ’s continuing priesthood but the notion of priesthood is not present in the Pauline books. See 1 John 2:1.
Gospel Reading: Mark 9:2-10
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. 4 Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 6 He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. 7 Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” 8 Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.
9 As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.
NOTES on Gospel Reading:
* 9:2-8 This incident is also told in Matt 17:1-9 and Luke 9:28-36. Only Luke 9:28 tells us that Jesus went up the mountain to pray. The others give no reason for going up the mountain. Mark and Matthew 17:1 place the transfiguration of Jesus six days after the first prediction of his passion and death and his instruction to the disciples on the doctrine of the cross. The six days may be intended to echo the time of Israel’s waiting for God to speak to Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exod 24:16). Luke 9:28 has “about eight days.” In a sense the transfiguration counterbalances the prediction of the passion by affording some of the disciples some insight into the divine glory that Jesus possessed. It is this same glory that will overcome his death and that of his disciples (2 Cor 3:18; 2 Peter 1:16-19). The voice from heaven (Mark 9:7) prepares the disciples to understand that in the divine plan Jesus must die before his messianic glory is made manifest. Although this story has been explained by some as a resurrection appearance retrojected into the time of Jesus’ ministry, that does not seem probable since the account lacks many of the usual elements of the resurrection- appearance narratives. The story also draws upon motifs from the Old Testament and noncanonical Jewish apocalyptic literature that express the presence of the heavenly and the divine with brilliant light, white garments, and the overshadowing cloud. These same three disciples are also taken apart from the others by Jesus in Gethsemane (14:33). The mountain has been identified with Tabor or Hermon, but it is considered likely by many scholars that no specific mountain was intended by the evangelist. Its meaning is taken by them to be theological rather than geographical, possibly recalling the revelation to Moses on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:12-18) and to Elijah at the same place (1 Kings 19:8-18 where Horeb is equivalent to Sinai in another thread of the tradition). Without denying the symbolic validity of the various elements of the story, I tend to favor a real mountain and a real event.
* 9:4 Jesus is joined by two preeminent Old Testament God seers who also met God on a mountain (Exod 33:18ff and 1 Kgs 19:8-11). Elijah, representing the prophets, and Moses, representing the law, together represent the entire Old Testament. Both Matthew and Luke mention Moses and Elijah but Mark is the only one that has the usual order of Law and prophets reversed. They now appear with Jesus as witnesses to the fulfillment of the law and the prophets taking place in the person of Jesus as he appears in glory. Moses had longed to see God’s glory (Ex 33:18) and now sees it in Jesus.
* 9:5 Peter’s statement is a reference to the Feast of Tabernacles (Lev 23:39-43) during which time this event is thought to have occurred. There was also a popular belief among the people that the Messiah would come at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles.
* 9:7 Even the disciples enter into the mystery of His glorification as a cloud came, casting a shadow over them. In the Old Testament the cloud covered the meeting tent, indicating the Lord’s presence in the midst of his people (Exodus 40:34-35) and came to rest upon the temple in Jerusalem at its dedication (1 Kings 8:10). The cloud was a frequent symbol of God’s presence (Exod 19:9; 16:10; Ps 92:2). Here, the Father declares who Jesus is by calling Him His Son. The words of God may be an allusion to Dt 18:18 and the following verses. The early Christians identified Jesus as the prophet promised in Dt 18:18.
* 9: 9-13 They were not to speak about the incident until they understood what it was really about. The confusion of the disciples stems from the fact that at the transfiguration of Jesus they had seen Elijah but according to the rabbinical interpretation of Malachi 4:5 or 3:23 (depending upon version), Elijah was to come first. Jesus responds by telling them that Elijah had come, in the person of John the Baptizer, to prepare for the day of the Lord. Jesus also must suffer greatly and be treated with contempt (Mark 9:12) like the Baptizer (Mark 9:13). See Mark 6:17-29.