2nd sunday of lent; Reflections Year B

Dear all,
I have fallen in love once more with these two reflections.
Fara Wo Milan (Fr Joseph Dufe)
2nd Sunday of Lent Year B
First Reading: Genesis 22:1‑2, 9‑13, 15‑18
God put Abraham to the test. “Abraham, Abraham he called”. “Here I am he replied”. “Take your son, God said your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you”. When they arrived at the place God had pointed out to him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood. Then he stretched out his hand and seized the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven. “Abraham, Abraham he said”. “I am here” he replied. “Do not raise your hand against the boy” the angel said. “Do not harm him, for now I know you fear God. You have not refused me your son, your only son”. Then looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush. Abraham took the ram and offered it as a burnt‑offering in place of his son. The angel of the Lord called Abraham a second time from heaven. “I swear by my own self – it is the Lord who speaks – because you have done this, because you have not refused me your son, your only son, I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore. Your descendants shall gain possession of the gates of their enemies. All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience”.
Second Reading: Romans 8:31‑34
With God on our side who can be against us? Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give. Could anyone accuse those that God has chosen? When God acquits, could anyone condemn? Could Christ Jesus? No! He not only died for us – he rose from the dead, and there at God’s right hand he stands and pleads for us.
Gospel: Mark 9:2‑10
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them. Elijah appeared to them with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Then Peter spoke to Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said “it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say; they were so frightened. And a cloud came, covering them in shadow; and there came a voice from the cloud, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.” Then suddenly, when they looked round, they saw no one with them any more but only Jesus. As they came down from the mountain he warned them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They observed the warning faithfully, though among themselves they discussed what “rising from the dead” could mean.
2nd Sunday of Lent Year B
Gen. 22:1‑2, 9‑13, 15‑18; Rom. 8:31‑34 Mk. 9:2‑10
The Mountaintop Experience
I have this academic habit of throwing a theological or even social debate to the students while we are at table. The other day we were pondering as to what our present-day society has done to mankind. Then one brother asked us to think of what the world would look like in 6010. I quickly told him he had gone too far and so our mental game might not yield fruit; so we tuned it down to 2030 when some of us might still fortunately be alive, clinging to our pipes and stroking our beards, telling the young ones how it used to be in our days. After a lot of brain storming, I went back to the original question: “How would the world look like in 6010?” There are certain questions we never can afford to escape from, even if they seem too remote from us. After all, how far is eternal life from us? Now, in the debate, so many hypotheses were propounded. Someone at one point said there might be no friars; and I added that there might even be no church. The one that got much laughter was the hypothesis that people might actually download their wives from the internet and have them there at their table in front of them.
At each epoch in life, it always seems as if mankind has reached its zenith; it always appears as if nothing more could be added. No sooner than just 24 hours after, it becomes clear that man’s knowledge and achievements as they are now are limited and that his exploration capacity is limitless. We are never always at the mountain top of development – be it technical, economic, social, etc. There is always something more to be added to what we already have. Truly we do not know what the world will be like in 6010, but all we do know is how it looks like now. We live in the here-and-now and our joyful experiences might seem to suffice; we might seem to have reached the mountain top, yet we must ponder ahead and be able to see what the future holds for us. We must try to see how to move ahead rather than sit on one spot musing of the joys of the present.
The people of Israel went through so many experiences – the joyful and the sorrowful ones – as they trekked across the desert towards the Promised Land. Moses who was appointed by God to lead them from slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land would have loved at one point to sit and muse on the presence of God. After a lifetime of faithful service as leader of God’s people in their long journey through the desert, he himself would die without reaching the Promised Land.
That such a selfless and committed leader who has spent himself in the cause of liberation should fail to reach it himself seems incomprehensible to us, but that appears to be a regular pattern in the mystery of God’s design. We hardly reach the end of our endeavours. Death is always untimely. Now, in order to help Moses and his people bear the shock and the consequent crisis of faith this would generate, God led Moses up Mount Nebo and there on the mountaintop, God granted him a preview of the Promised Land and its glory. With that, Moses was reassured that God was still being faithful to His promise and the people were reassured that Moses was indeed the man of God that he claimed to be. But it would have made no sense if Moses remained there on Mount Nebo, admiring the Promised Land, even after having known that he himself would not reach there. He had to make his people inherit it.
Something similar is happening on the Mount of the Transfiguration in today’s gospel. James and John had followed Jesus because they wanted special seats at his right hand and at his left (Mark 10:37). Peter wanted to know what he would get since he had left everything to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28). These were ambitious men, men who believed that the fact that Jesus was the Messiah was going to translate into visible, tangible dividends in this life both for Jesus and for them his followers. If Jesus had not prepared them beforehand by giving them a glimpse into the heavenly glory that was his and theirs at the end of their journey of faith, they would have been devastated by the shock of Jesus’ shameful death as a public criminal. Just as our mountaintop experiences in life make us ponder about the future, and like the mountaintop experience on Mount Nebo prepared Moses and the Israelites, so the Transfiguration prepared Jesus and his special attachés who would assume the mantle of leadership after him for the trauma that was soon to come.
The other day, while we drove from Bambui to Sop, the brother who was sitting by me lamented the fact that it seems that everyone wants to make an extra gain even from a well programmed machine like the petrol pump. It is an experience of life that we are never satisfied with what we have; like Oliver Twist, we always look for more, even where we did not sow. Many of us spend our daily lives in the valley of toil and hardship, rushing as soon as we get out of bed till the time we mount it again, tired by the days worries and chores. Tomorrow always comes and goes and things seem the same, yet we are unnoticeably aging out. We always pretend that things should be the way we want them to be. In moments of darkness, we feel abandoned by God and begin to doubt our faith and its promises. If we remain close to Jesus during this season of Lent, one mountaintop experience is all that we need and our doubts and fears will turn into blessed assurance; all because our eyes have seen the glory of the Lord, our own future glory.
Paul assures us in the second reading of today that God is on our side and would give us anything we need. Jesus’ position at God’s right hand is ours as well; our hope for it must make us ponder on the future and cease being content with what we have now. At the same time, this hope should make us to get up and go on. In order to work towards this hoped-for place, we may have to sacrifice a lot, even the things that are so dear to us. This is a clarion Lenten call. Abraham was ready to sacrifice even his own son – the son of the covenant. Because of this readiness God rewarded him the more. May the Lenten experiences help us to already enjoy the foretaste of Easter. Amen.
From another Perspective
Love, whether it be God’s love for us or our love for God, summarizes today’s liturgy. God’s love for the disciples, after the first announcement of the Passion, reveals to them the splendor of his divinity on Mount Tabor. The mysterious, paradoxical love of God for Abraham instills in him absolute confidence in God’s providence when faced with the order to sacrifice his son Isaac. The love of God did not spare his own Son but led him to death for the sake of all of us, as we read in the second reading. On the other hand, the love of Abraham for God is seen in his readiness to sacrifice his only son out of loving obedience. The love of the disciples appears in their readiness to obey the Father who tells them, “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him”. We also see the love of Jesus who saved us with his death and intercedes for us from his throne at God’s right hand, well spelt out in the second reading.
The paradoxes of love are observed in the fact that God is an infinite mystery. His way of working and loving are also filled with mystery. Mysteries are unintelligible for our minds and our human logic. Only the heart can open the door of the mystery and glimpse a small part of its overwhelming greatness. Indeed, according to human logic it is a paradox that God has given Abraham a son, the only hope of the promise that God has made him, and then asks him to sacrifice him on Mount Moriah. It is equally paradoxical to us that God loves his Son Jesus Christ with the love of a Father and then asks him to suffer the great ignominy of death like a slave on a cross. And it is just as paradoxical that man has received Jesus Christ’s salvation and then has to cope with everyday anxieties, with tremendous hostile forces that make him question such salvation. However, it continues to be true that God overcomes paradoxes and unites apparently contradictory extremes with inseparable bonds of love. It’s not that God loves less in some cases and more in others. Rather, his love is different. Man, in turn, should not seek to rationalize the ways of divine action, for he will always most definitely fail. Rather, he should endeavor to open his heart and try to “understand” with love, for as Blaise Paschal says in his pensées “the heart has its reasons that reason does not understand” and this holds true both in the case of man and of God.
There are three ways of loving. In human relations, love takes on infinite forms. The same happens in the relationship between man and God. Today’s liturgy presents us with three of such forms of expressing love.
· To see. On Mount Moriah, “God provides for” and thus manifests his love for Abraham. In turn, Abraham “sees” a ram caught by its horns in a bush and offers it as a burnt offering in the place of his son. Thus he shows his grateful love to the Lord. In the text of the Gospel, Peter, James and John “saw” Jesus transfigured with the splendor of divinity, and what they saw made them want to stay there to contemplate such an ineffable experience. The eyes are the windows of love: through the eyes love enters like a ray of light through glass, and through the eyes passes transparent and bright the ray of love from the heart to the external world, to envelop the loved one. The same phenomenon that takes place with human love also occurs in the relations of love between man and God.
· To listen. It is sweet to the ear to hear the voice of the loved one. This is why Abraham, who loves God, “listens” to his voice that calls him and replies, “Here I am,” in a gesture of readiness that springs from his love. This is why the Father invites the disciples to “listen” to Jesus his beloved Son, so that through his words their ears may hear the revelations of the love that reached the madness of the cross. Listening to the voice of the loved one calls for an attitude of obedience. Hence, true Christian obedience coincides with listening to the divine voice, which sets in motion the wish to do what the loved one wishes.
· To experience. Only when love comes down to the level of experience is that love powerful and effective. A love not grounded in experience runs the risk of degenerating into selfishness, abstraction, or pure sentimentalism. Abraham “experienced” God’s faithful love, but this love of his remained sound and firm when it was put to the test. Jesus “experienced” the love of the Father and love for men. This is why he was able to embrace the cross with determination and freedom. And Paul, who strongly “experienced” Christ’s love wonders if anyone could separate him from such love.
Love and pain become a inseparable couple brining in a difficult relationship. To love a person when everything is fine, when love seems to live in an eternal Springtime, when the fruits of love are sweet, when reciprocity in love makes life beautiful, and when we look to the future with joy and hope, is easy and even pleasant. But in love stories not everything always runs smoothly. In relationships based on real love, contraries such as pain, suffering, trials and incomprehension from time to time knock on the door. And the soul falls prey to the temptation of questioning that love, of seeing in pain something that destroys love, of feeling that love is cooling down. Why do these things happen if pain, according to God’s plans, is simply a different facet of love? Have we not experienced, perhaps, that pain and trial deepen love, that they are enormous forces that purify and enhance the human heart’s ability to love? Love and pain are like the two poles (negative and positive) that are necessary in order to produce psychic and spiritual energy in the human being. Doesn’t the very wisdom of men tell us that a person who has not suffered or undergone trials or tribulations will have a hard time in becoming a mature person? I have also started to wonder why contemporary man looks down on pain and hates it so passionately. Could it be that true love, the love for God, men and life, is growing cold among us?
Contemporary man is no doubt the man who has listened and still listens to the greatest amount of words in all of history. He is allured by many of such words and listens to them with pleasure. Others bore him, in which case he simply closes off the communication channel or seeks another more pleasant conversation. There are also words that engender fear in him, sometimes a lot of fear. Words uttered by fathers that won’t give in to their children’s tantrums, words spoken by educators that require attention and reflection, words laid down by laws which structure human coexistence, words of the Church which teach the meaning of life, place before our eyes the meaning of existence. These words often arouse the fear that lies in ambush in our psyche. In truth, we are not afraid of words; rather, we are afraid of ourselves, afraid of elevating ourselves to the level of an existence which corresponds to us as human beings and disciples of Jesus Christ. We don’t want to see, to hear and to experience. This Lent may be a moment for us to allow God to uproot our fears.
Be a light to the world and salt to the earth

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