2nd Sunday of Lent (B) – February 28, 2021
St. Mary – Derby, KS
Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Psalm 116:10, 15-19; Romans 8:31b-34; Mark 9:2-10
Abraham Is Nuts or God Is: One of the Two
This story of Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac and the story of the Transfiguration don’t really seem fit together. But I’ll give you the secret right from the get-go.
In both, we find the secret, the key, the Rosetta Stone of it all: there is nothing God delights in more than completely and totally entrusting ourselves to Him, and by holding up His end of the bargain that this trust, this faith, is not in vain. God delights in nothing more than when we freely, willingly, and unreservedly entrust our entire life, and everything in our life, to Him. And even more so, He is thrilled, delighted, ecstatic even, to hold up His end of the deal.
Now we all know, this scene of Abraham being willing to sacrifice his only son has been ridiculed and thrown in Christians’ faces for millennia. “How could your God ask someone to do that? How could your God demand someone to kill their child?” And, I mean, if you read the story carefully, you realize that “God put Abraham to the test” (Genesis 22:1). He was never going to let Abraham go through with it. But that’s beside the point. It’s just a test. A test of Abraham’s faith in God.
People think Abraham is nuts! And righty so, I guess. If someone was about to go sacrifice their son on the football field at the Derby stadium, and he told people, “Well, God told me to do it,” we would lock that guy up. Or, people think that God is nuts because He would even ask someone to do that! And again, if you don’t actually read the story, I understand why people think that. But what is the story? What’s the point of the story?
The point is that Abraham has such incredible faith, his trust in God is so complete and total and unconditional—Abraham’s faith is the kind of faith that is willing to offer everything to God! That’s it. Abraham places nothing before God. God has the first place in his life. Everything else—everything—is of secondary importance.
“What gives God the right??” Dinosaurs, That’s What.
“But what gives God the right to make such demands on us??” This is the objection, “What gives God the right?? He wants everything? What?” And I get it. Trust me. I get it.
Is there anyone here who likes dinosaurs? Is there anyone here who loves dinosaurs? Now, here’s the harder question (this one’s for the adults, ok): why did God create dinosaurs? Have you ever thought about that? They’re kind of ridiculous. We never saw them, we’re just digging up a bunch of bones. Why did God create dinosaurs? Because people enjoy them. Because in God’s mind, from all eternity, He had these people in mind who absolutely love these things. From all eternity God knew these kids, and He created dinosaurs because He loves them (these kids). Why is that? Because God is absolute Love (c.f., 1 John 4:8).
(This is going to be embarrassing for the adults, I know) but think about when you were in love. You went insane. You did absolutely useless and crazy and ludicrous things. Things that are, in fact, somewhat embarrassing. Or you fall out of love and you look back and think, “How could I ever have gotten so silly and ridiculous?” And you do crazy stuff like that. But that’s you.
Imagine absolute, infinite Love? There are all of these weird fish and creatures that live at the bottom of the oceans. And 99.9% of them live and die, and we never knew it. Millions of species in the oceans that we have no idea even exist. What in the world? Why are they there? This is just infinite, absolute, overflowing, crazy, insane Love.
All of creation, everything that exists, the Bible says, is for Christ (c.f., Colossians 1:16, “all things have been created…for him”), and it is a gift to him, including ourselves, from his Father. God, the Father, must be really and completely and crazily in love, He must be Love, because he has just given him too much. He can’t stop creating strange, new, different things—just, as a gift.
What do all of these things tell you? All of these exaggerations in creation? Dinosaurs, black holes, weird fish, humans? It tells you that behind it all, there is this infinite, absolute Love gone crazy. And so I’m not lying to you. I’m being serious—as serious as I can—that I would not find it strange if the only reason there are dinosaurs is to make this kid happy (Albacete).
God wants everything? God is too demanding? No. God wants our love, our heart, our affection. Like any Father spoiling his children that he loves, he doesn’t need anything in return—what is a kid going to get their dad that he can’t get himself? He just wants their love.
Passion Prediction: Prediction of Complete Self-Offering
Do you know what happened right before the scene of the Transfiguration? Jesus predicted that he would “suffer, be rejected…and be killed” (Mark 8:31). And then, if that wasn’t enough, he said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). What is this? Why? Was the Father bloodthirsty? Does the Father want Jesus and us to be miserable and dead?
Jesus is showing that the Father is willing—like our second reading pointed out (c.f., Romans 8:32)—the Father is willing to (and did) give His own Son as a gift to us! Like Abraham, the Father is willing to sacrifice His own Son, to prove His fidelity TO US by not holding back even His own Son. And the Son? Jesus himself? The Son is willing to show complete and total faith in the Father, in God. Like Abraham, he is willing to be completely faithful, even to the point of death.
Jesus predicting the passion, the passion and death that he’s going to undergo—it’s a “prediction” of the extent of his faith and trust, the pure love between Father and Son, between God and humanity. The apostles are scandalized, we are scandalized, “Why does God want blood??” But no. It’s purely, “Look at how the Son delights in doing the will of His Father, showing his Father his love, entrusting himself completely to the Father? Look at how crazily in love God the Father is with His Son?”
And Jesus invites us to do the same. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” But why? What incentive is there?
Why the Transfiguration?
This is where the Transfiguration fits in. It is the opening to the second half of the Gospel. The first half of Mark began with the Baptism of Jesus, and the cloud came, and the Spirit descended in the form of a dove, and the voice from the cloud said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). Today, in the beginning of the second half, the cloud comes, the Spirit bursts forth in the radiant light, and the voice from the cloud says, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him” (Mark 9:7).
What we see in the Transfiguration is what we saw the preview for in the Baptism: we see the Kingdom of God come with power (c.f., Mark 9:1). We see the power of the Kingdom of God that has arrived in and through Jesus. And why? Why is Jesus given this power? Why is Jesus able to wield this power? Because Jesus is finally one who gives himself entirely to God, who unconditionally gives himself to God, holding nothing back. Jesus lives his life as a life of total and complete self-giving to the Father in the power of the Spirit.
The Transfiguration, this event where we see this radiance, is for us, for his disciples. Seeing this is the wellspring of our faith, the faith of the disciples, the foundation of the Church (Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, 291). In this event, the veil is pulled back (apokalypsis), we see what’s really going on, what’s happening in Jesus.
And what’s more, we see what God is promising to us in Jesus. As if dinosaurs weren’t enough, God is promising us that radiant life, new life, “transfigured” life. And not just one day when we die, but now, even now. We can have that radiant life of Jesus pumping through us, the life of the Spirit radiating from us.
How? That should be our question. “How? Give me this life always!” And the answer is faith. Faith as entrusting yourself, your life, your love completely to God, through Jesus. What holds us back from this life is our lack of selfless generosity, our lack of love, our obsession with the fact that we are going to die and so we are doing everything in our own power to enjoy things while we can. No. No, no, no. “Do you still not understand?” Jesus asks (Mark 8:21).
The New Covenant: Through Faith
“Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for [him] and for the gospel will save it.” That’s the point. Faith. Abrahamic faith. A faith that doesn’t hold back our life. There is nothing God delights in more than completely and totally entrusting ourselves to Him, by placing all of our faith and trust in Him, through Jesus. How can God hold anything back from people who love this Son He is so crazily in love with? Who place their faith and trust in Him just like his Son does? And even more, those who are baptized into the very life of His Son? God will hold up His end of the bargain, and this trust, this faith will not be in vain. That same life is given to us now, that radiant, new and “transfigured” life. Not just one day when we die, but now, even now. We can have that radiant life of Jesus pumping through us, the life of the Spirit radiating from us. This is the new covenant.
What holds us back? Our lack of selfless generosity, our lack of love, doing everything in our power to give ourselves life, holding on to our life. No. “Whoever wants to save their life will lose it.”
And on the night before he suffered, he took bread, and gave it: “This is my body, given up for you.” In this Eucharist we are about to receive, what we receive is this transfigured body of Christ. This is a sacrament of the total giving of his body, so that we may become this body, a body radiating with the power and divinity of God (c.f., Jean Corbon, Wellspring of Worship, chapter 7).