I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the Land of the living.
Genesis 22:1-2,9a,10-13,15-18 [I will greatly bless you, because you have obeyed My voice.]
Psalm 116:10-19 [R/ I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living.]
Romans 8:31b-34 [God did not spare His own Son.]
Mark 9:2-10 [This is My beloved Son. ]
We are now celebrating the Sunday of Abraham, or the Sunday of the Transfiguration, as we stated last year. We are reflecting on the test God puts Abraham through. It constitutes a beautiful transition from the kind of Temptations the devil brings us to face and the test God places before us. When we attempt to contrast the Satanic test and the Divine tests, the difference is clear: Satan invites to a more liberal, easy way, God calls on those he loves to face a tougher, difficult path full of sacrifices. Abraham is ordered: “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.” St. John Chrysostome reflects on what would have been Abraham’s predicaments and how the Patriarch handled it. He writes in one of his homilies:
“But if you would want to see a father who had an only son, manifest such and even more courage, you must remember the Patriarch Abraham, who would rather not see Isaac die, yet what was more sad, much more than sorrowful, is the fact that he receives the command to carry out the sacrifice of Isaac himself. This man, without disputing with God, without addressing his fears: Why had you to make me a father? Was it in order to make me the murderer of my own son? Would that you had not even given me a son, instead of depriving me of him in this manner after giving him to me? Why ask me to sacrifice him with my own hand, to soil my hands with his blood? Did you not promise me you would fill the earth with my posterity through this same son? Can a tree bear fruits when there is no root? Could you promise me posterity by demanding me to sacrifice my son? Has anyone ever seen anything like this; have you ever heard anything like it? Ah! Perhaps I was wrong I was: “worn out. Away with such talking and thinking; away with arguing against the Lord’s command and hold Him accountable, as he had said: Take your only son that you love, Isaac, and execute on a mountain that I will show you (Genesis 22.2). He executed this order with such zeal that he did more than what was prescribed. Indeed, he hid this sacrifice from his wife and his servants, let them down the mountain, and took with him Isaac as the victim. He obeyed with alacrity and without resistance! Think of how embarrassing it was for a father to talk alone with his son and no one present. Think of when the bowels are troubled more, when all the tenderness wakes up…”
The beginning of this first reading therefore, exposes us to this very demanding and uncompromising image of a God who would not spare those who are His own, making us to wonder how one could seek His face only to be confronted with this kind of a gruesome sacrificial demand. The Church recognizes that Divine invitations to embrace such a sacrificial life demand a fervent spirit of discernment and insight. In this regard, we could see the beautiful Antiphon which opens our celebration today as one by which the Assembly implores the Lord not to hide His face. To loose sight of God defeats every effort to sanctity and obedience we may be trying to live. To behold the face of God, we are disposed to listen to Him and understand where He means to lead us to, regardless of the decisions His invitation require us to assume. The face of God will become clearer at the Transfiguration, when the disciples will truly know who Jesus is: a knowledge that will become the peak religious experiential event to eventually remind them of His Lordship, regardless of the sacrifices He will be submitted to by the Father. The face of God, will at the end of time, when Christ will be all in all, become the ultimate goal of our Christian striving: the beatific vision. This is the purpose of our earthly pilgrimage. It is the purpose of our Lenten pilgrimage and must remain the purpose of all the moves we make while we await the experience of His glory.
As the Church celebrates today, she invites her assembled children at prayer to become aware of the Divine command to listen to Jesus Christ, a command echoed in the Gospel. The Church recognizes the centrality of the Word, that which we listen to, and the necessary disposition of docility, or humility, of obedience, of listening. It is the Word that nourishes us. This nourishment is inward! And when we are so nourished from within, our spiritual visions are pure and we eventually – thanks to this purity of sight – are empowered to see or better still, experience the glory of God. Abraham, within him, was blessed with this kind of a vision and so God made him behold the ‘lamb’. He will now sacrifice this lamb as a prefiguration of the sacrifice of Christ on the Hill of Calvary. In this way, Christ is proclaimed already in and through Abraham: a thought we understand easily thanks to the concept of typology.
What is the secret then, of acquiring this internal sight – this eye of the mind – that will enable us to see the glory of God? First, it is a gift from the Lord, who invites us to behold His glory even without us asking for it. It is a Divine initiative. We must be a chosen people to undergo this experience. Last Sunday, the Rite of Election declared us and the catechumens as belonging to this category. We are a people set apart. The disciples, who accompanied Him to the Mount of Olives/Horeb, never knew what He intended to have them see. Abraham never knew what the Lord intended him to experience. Yet something saved them: obedience, faith, a kind of sheepish following, an absolute trust and total surrender to the will of God. The Lord invites us to assume this same disposition when He tells us Listen to Him. When we listen, the Lord leads us to know the depth of His commitment to the Covenant He has established with us. He tells Abraham: “I swear by myself, … that because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your beloved son, 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, and in your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing- all this because you obeyed my command.” Our obedience to the Divine will, arrived at through an inner process of discernment, a process the Lord Himself invites us to experience, is a great source of blessing for us and for our descendants, and indeed for all nations.
The Responsorial Psalm suggests ways by which we can build this inner docility. We are to walk in the presence of the Lord, to cherish the land of the living. The dead cannot praise the Lord, or those who go down into the silence. When we walk in the land of the living, we celebrate life. We promote a culture of life. We stay awake. We remain ever vigilant. We never give in to sleep. Even when we are sorely afflicted, we live in trust, in fidelity, and when we die our death becomes a precious thing in the sight of God. Those who succeed in being this alive, are the true servants of the Lord, people the Lord has liberated from the bonds of sin, people who no more hesitate to make their lives a thanksgiving sacrifice, calling on the Name of the Lord all day long. Of course this life-style demands keeping to the vows we have made, a holy life: fulfilling the vows in the sight of all the peoples, sticking to them be it in the courts of the house of the Lord, be it in Jerusalem, the city of God and the city of the great King. Today, we are invited to become aware of what the Lord implies by the phrase: Listen to Him. It is an entire life of commitment, of on-going conversion, of sanctity, of trust, fidelity, all coming from within.
Jesus, the Son of God is made manifest today as the absolute model of all who would become sons, who would listen to the Father. He is presented as the one who is the fulfilment of the entire Law and the Prophets, the one about whom the entire deposit of the faith of the Old Testament looked forward to: the Messiah! But He stands out too, as the only Son of God, whom the Father never spared, as St. Paul tells us in the second reading. God, in Jesus, makes sense out of the kind of demand He was making of Abraham, to sacrifice his only son Isaac. It seemed a meaningless call, but there is in such a sacrifice, an inner logic not open to mere mortals without the insight from above. God himself, did not spare His own Son. Jesus makes this clear to His followers. With Moses and Elijah, He discussed – at least we learn from another Gospel – about the impending paschal mystery He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Mark hints us about this when he ends up the episode of today with the charged Jesus lay on the apostles “not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” It was a charge they kept to themselves,” questioning what rising from the dead meant.” The Preface makes us understand that Jesus made them undergo this experience of the transfiguration so that they may know that “the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection”
Here we are, being told today to take on the example of Abraham, to heed to the Divine call to listen, to imitate the apostles who kept things to themselves until… This demands a transfigured life too, on our part. We need to take delight in the commands of the Lord, out of love. We need to face a world that now presents Christianity much more as a commercial process, a path towards material wealth rather than a path towards victory through the cross, through a life of sacrifice, of fasting, of prayer, of almsgiving and of reconciliation. True enough Abraham’s experience makes us aware that all these blessings shall be ours, but not without persecution, Jesus adds, when He cautions the disciples regarding the rewards of discipleship in the Gospel. That is why the Church concludes the Liturgy today asking the Lord, to bless us, His faithful people, with a blessing that endures for ever, keeping us faithful to the Good News of His only Begotten Son. An enduring blessing is far from material possession even when it may include it. It consists more of the blessing that enables us to desire and attain the glory of heaven shown forth or prefigured in the Body of Christ at the Transfiguration.
Perhaps we should end up this reflection with the reassuring words of St. Paul: If God is for us, who can be against!” It is such a relevant expression, so necessary to make us opt for Christ, and do all to Listen to Him, to declare ourselves as belonging to His camp in the phase of a hostile world, to so belong in such a way that we fear no ill, no persecution, no sword, because Christ Himself, has shown us through His death how such an obedient attachment to God does become an eternal blessing and a gateway to beholding the Lord and walking in His presence in the Land of the Living.