Sunday, March 8, 2009

This Is My Beloved Son. Listen To Him!

Both the First Reading and the Gospel of the day are, in a manner of speaking, experiences of liturgy. First there is a gathering, and a procession, in both instances up to the summit of a mountain. Next, there is a Word of God. Then, there is a revelation of the Real Presence of God. And, finally, a recessional, as the participants go back down from the mountain top, and life goes on.

In the reading from Genesis, it is not until Isaac, the son of Abraham has been bound hand and foot and place on the altar that the Angel, the Messenger of the LORD, calls for a halt in the proceedings. Abraham has proven that he is not only the father of Isaac, but our “Father in the Faith” as he is called in our own liturgy. He is prepared to make any sacrifice, even to offer his only son, in obedience to the will of the LORD God. Only then comes the answer to the question Isaac asked as the trek up the mountain side began, in verse 6, which is not a part of today’s reading: "Father, the wood and the fire are here. But where is the lamb?”

The Gospel presents us with the story of the Transfiguration. The Greek word comes closer to the real meaning of the incident: Metamorphosis, more commonly rendered as “transformation”, in particular the evolution of a caterpillar into a butterfly. Peter, James and John climb a steep mountain with Jesus. There an amazing change takes place in Jesus, as his clothes and his face become more dazzling bright than any fuller on earth could bleach them. The Moses, the Lawgiver, and Elijah, the Prophet, appear with Jesus. The message, given by signs and not by words is this: Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and of the Prophets. Then the voice of God is heard from the clouds that hide the sun: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!”

And, as suddenly as it had begun, it is over. There they are, just the four of them, Jesus and the three disciples who have been chosen to witness this event. Jesus charges them not to speak about what they’ve seen until after the Son of Man has risen from the dead.

The trio of disciples has no idea what “rising from the dead” means. They will learn, in events that we will be commemorating in just a few weeks. Before then, we will see Peter, James and John again, in an olive garden on the side of another mountain outside Jerusalem. While Jesus undergoes an agony so painful that blood exudes from his pores, the three of them will be asleep.

And the next morning, one of those three, John, will be an eyewitness to Act Three of this sacred drama. This time, it will not be a lamb caught in a thicket that takes the place of the son of Abraham, it will be the Son of God who takes the place of the children of Abraham, and the children of Adam, as he sacrifices his own life in reparation for the sins of the whole world. And on the following morning, Peter and John will be witnesses to the final scene of this drama in real life, as Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary rises from death to a new life, a pledge and a promise of new life and eternal happiness.

Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Romans, today's Second Reading asks a critical question:

What can we say or do in response to what God has done for us? He did not spare his own Son, but handed him over to the executioners, not because he deserved to be punished, but to save us from what we deserved for our own sinfulness. How can he not graciously give us the graces that we need to live according to his will? Since God has acquitted us, who can condemn us? Christ Jesus, who died -- and more than that, was raised to life -- sits at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf.

God our Father, help us to hear your Son. Enlighten us with your word, that we might find the way to your glory. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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