The first reading from Genesis described Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac. Unfortunately, the passage was discontinuous. The details of the journey to the place of sacrifice were skipped over. That Isaac carried the wood for the sacrifice on his own back was omitted. Isaac's confusion was left out. We are left with two things: Abraham's obedience and the confirmation of God's promise that he would be the father of a great nation. This is a rich narrative. Relevant details should not be left out.
To those with the mindset common to Freudian psychiatrists or those hostile to faith, the narrative is disturbing. God asks a man to sacrifice his only son. The man prepares to carry out the sacrifice without question. Many people whine, whimper, and emote about this narrative along the lines of "I could never believe in a God who could be so cruel, sadistic, irrational, or . . . ." (fill in the blank with a favorite pejorative). There is no sadism here. There is no cruelty in the narrative. There is only faith.
In the comments on this passage the Jewish Study Bible describes what it calls Abraham's last and greatest test as, "A magnificent story, that is one of the gems of biblical narrative." It also notes a translation problem. "There is no good English equivalent for the Hebrew 'hineni' that is translated as 'Here I am.' Hineni indicates readiness, alertness, attentiveness, receptivity, and responsiveness to instructions." It indicates obedience to the will of God without question.
In the second reading from Paul's Letter to the Romans we heard that, God "did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all." God asked Abraham to give him all, to give him everything, to give him his only son, to give him his future, and the existence of a people yet to come into existence.
Once Abraham demonstrated his obedience God returned everything to him.
Once Jesus demonstrated his obedience God returned everything to us.
The Suscipe of St. Ignatius of Loyola is one of the first prayers a Jesuit novice learns when he enters. It begins, "Take Lord, and receive, all my liberty, my memory my understanding, my entire will, all I have and call my own."
Not that which I am willing to give,
Not that which is left over,
Not that which is easy
That is what Abraham was willing to give.
That is what God the Father gave us.
Jesus' Transfiguration points us towards, and draws us into, a mystery that is beyond historical reconstruction. The Transfiguration is beyond scientific explanation. It is beyond geographic specificity. None of these factors matter. When, how, and where are unnecessary distractions. It is sufficient that Jesus was transfigured in front of three of the apostles.
Imagine the scene. Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets, standing with Jesus. Put yourself into that scene.
Where are you standing?
What are you seeing?
What are you feeling?
What are you thinking?
How are you acting?
The apostles were confused and frightened. As he became more anxious Peter began to speak without thinking what he was saying. Despite today's vogue for apostle bashing none of us would have acted any better. Most likely, we would have acted worse and pulled out an Ancient Near East smart phone, snapped pictures, to tweet to the rest of the apostles, and tried to get a selfie with Moses.
As the tension increased the voice of God the Father declared, "This is my beloved Son."
This is the beloved Son who was like us in all things but sin.
This is the beloved Son who took on the human condition to redeem us from our sins and save us from death.
This is the beloved son, God incarnate, who, like Isaac, carried the wood for the sacrifice on his own back.
This is the beloved son, who, like Abraham, acted in perfect obedience to the will of the Father.
Then, the apostles, and by extension, each one of us, received a mission from the Father: "Listen to him." Listen to his teaching, the teaching of His words and the teaching of His actions. As we listen to Jesus words and imitate his actions, as we take His teaching to heart, and allow that teaching to transform us, we move that much closer to witnessing the glory of His Transfiguration.
Sometimes an abstract photo transmits the message better than a figurative one. This is a shot of the lights of Koper, Slovenia taken across the water from Piran. It has been heavily processed, manipulated, and flipped into a vertical.
Very busy week coming up. Away from Thursday to Monday. Once a few meetings are done it is time to lock myself in a room and begin preparing for Holy Week at the Abbey where I will celebrate most of the liturgies and make my annual eight-day retreat.
+Fr. Jack, SJ, MD