2nd Sunday in Lent
Reading I Genesis 22: 1-18
Psalm 116:10, 15-19
Reading II Romans 8:31-34
Gospel Mark 9:2-10
A mother came downstairs in the morning and, as normal, started making breakfast. Her husband was there and her children were playing. The sun was beaming in the window and she was spreading jelly on the toast for her daughter. All of a sudden she had this strange feeling, this wonderful feeling — a feeling of peace, a feeling of comfort, a feeling of being close to God.
Abraham Maslow would call that a peak moment, a peak experience. In today’s Gospel we see Jesus bringing Peter, James and John up Mount Tabor. When they got up there, what happened? Jesus was transfigured. His body became white shining. On one side was Moses and the other side was Elisah. All of a sudden a cloud came over them, which was the spirit, and a voice came down and said, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.”
If you were there, what would you have thought? Would you have been amazed? Would you have thought, “Oh, my gosh, I’m in heaven.” Peter’s response was, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let’s build a temple, a tent for you, one for Moses, and one for Elisha.” From Peter’s viewpoint he thought, “Let’s not leave. This is a wonderful place.” What did Jesus say? “Of course, this is a wonderful place but we do need to come down to reality. We do need to come down to life.”
It’s sort of like being at Cursillo and having a wonderful experience and you don’t want to leave. That is one experience — on Mount Tabor. There was another experience for Jesus and this one was on the Mount of Olives. Again, Peter, James and John were there and this event we refer to as the agony in the garden. If you remember, this was the place where Jesus was really sad and Jesus was talking to his Father and asking, “Do I have to suffer and die?” They say he sweat blood. But Jesus also said, “Let your will be done, not mine.”
It is important that we look at both mountains. At Mount Tabor what do we see? We see Jesus and his divinity. What do we see on the Mount of Olives? We see Jesus in his humanity.
So there are two sides to this same coin. Jesus is one hundred percent human, and Jesus is one hundred percent divine. He had the good times and the bad times — just as we do.
If I asked how many of you are human, you would all put your hands up. If I asked how many of you are divine, maybe a few people would hold up your hands. But the reality is: Because of our baptism, we are human and we do share in the divinity of Christ. Because of our baptism we are priest, prophet and king. So we are like Jesus, in a sense, because we have two sides to the same coin. I want you to think for a moment. How many of you have had a Mount Tabor experience where you feel close to the divine? Maybe it was at the birth of a child. Maybe it was at a dining room table. Maybe it was at a funeral of someone who had suffered and had now has gone on to heaven.
We all have had experiences when we have felt, and continue to feel, close to God. However, we all have had experiences, just as Jesus, when we are at the Mount of Olives, when we are depressed and down. Maybe we lost someone we loved. Maybe we lost a job. Maybe financial things are a problem, maybe relationships aren’t working out.
But the bottom of this line is that we have both experiences. Interestingly enough, or the Mount Tabor experience, and the Mount of Olives experience — why did Jesus go there? The answer is: He went there so he could pray.
During Lent one of the things for us to do is to look at ourselves and ask,
“How close am I to God? How close am I to my family and friends? And what can I do to make those relationships even better?” Prayer needs to be a major component.
In our first reading today, in the book of Genesis, we see Abraham. Abraham had a son, Isaac, who was born later in Abraham’s life and this was a gift to him from God. What did God ask Abraham to do? “I want you to take your beloved son, Isaac, and go to this mountain and kill him and sacrifice him to me.”
How many of us would say, “Sure.”
Now God is not asking, nor would God ever ask, us to do that. To better understand this, a thousand years or so before Christ was born, pagans believed if they sacrificed their oldest son they would be blessed with more children, and they would have prosperity. Therefore, they would bring their oldest son and throw him into the fire because that it what they believed.
Was God ever going to let him kill his child — absolutely not. So for one thing, God is sending a message to everyone that this ancient custom isn’t right. But the other message is: How much do we really, really trust in God?
Interestingly enough, what did God himself do? He offered his son up on the cross to die for us.
In our second reading from Paul to the Romans, Paul is telling us, “If we have God as the center of our life, we don’t need to worry about anything.” It doesn’t mean we do not have crosses to bear because we will have sorrows — but we will also have good times as well.
So the message to us all is this: That we have a God who loves us so very much. He is human, and he is divine. He has experienced what we have experienced and therefore he knows what we feel. That is why when he came into this world he didn’t just die for us, he showed us how to live.
So, today on this second Sunday of Lent, let us look at ourselves and ask: What are we doing to draw closer to God, and what are we doing to draw closer to each other? Are we appreciating those mountaintop experiences when we are close to God. And are we making the best of the situations when thing are not going so well?
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Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.