Just a word… Second Sunday in Lent…
Just a word… Second Sunday of Lent… February 28, 2021
Who wouldn’t want to rush by that troublesome first reading and move right onto the top of the mountain with Peter, James and John? To see the light and beauty of God, to say how good it is that we are here? Wouldn’t we all want to be in the place where Jesus’ question “Who do you say that I am?” is answered in such spectacular fashion, with Moses, the giver of the Law, and Elijah, the prophet extraordinaire, in attendance? Who wouldn’t want to put up tents and make the moment last? Such a human inclination, to try to prolong a time of glory, of excitement, of joy. But as we humans who have reached a certain age finally realize, moments such as these are transitory, even when they are transcendent.
But that troublesome first reading, with God asking the impossible of Abraham, rears its head and we are left tripping over it on the way to the mountaintop where we long to be. Scholars have long wrestled with the God of this story of Isaac’s potential demise… how do we relate to a God who seems as unpredictable and dangerous as February weather? Remember that Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah in their later years as a miracle child. How could God now ask Abraham to harm him?
Perhaps this scripture passage is more complex than it might seem at first glance.
Considered from a certain perspective, we might see why the church places these two readings together. It is worth noting that in the beginning of this story from Genesis, the Hebrew word used for God is Elohim, which can refer to any of the ancient Semitic gods. This concept of the divine evoked images of a vengeful deity, one who was absolute and even tyrannical, whose anger demanded appeasement, one who dismissed love in favor of obedience. The God who intervened in the sacrificial rite is named Lord, the one God, the covenantal Yahweh who is love and values love above all else. It is the Lord who tells Abraham not to lay a hand on Isaac, but to sacrifice a ram instead. View- ing the encounter in this light, one might call it a story of the transformation of Abraham’s understanding of who God is and here is where we can find resonance with the gospel.
What happens after these transitory encounters with the Living God? We know that Abraham goes on to become our father in faith, and the disciples descend the mountain to go forward as the apostles who will preach the kingdom of God. What about us? We, too, have encounters with the Living God, if we can develop the eyes and ears to perceive them. Perhaps ours are not as dramatic as those in the scriptures, but they are real, and they beg the question… how will we be transformed once we recognize that transfiguration is in our future, too?