Thursday, March 23, 2006

2nd Sunday in Lent (B)
Let Go! Keep Moving!

Readings: Gen 22:1-2,9-13,15-18; Rom 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10

My sisters and brothers, many of us have probably heard the story about the atheist who falls off a steep cliff, and finds himself hanging on to a branch for dear life, suspended between heaven and earth. As he hears the branch creak and strain with his weight, and as he feels his own strength ebbing fast, he looks up to the heavens and cries out: if there’s anyone up there, save me! And to his amazement, a voice booms out: I am with you… Do not be afraid! Encouraged, the atheist yells again: save me! To which the voice replies: I will… let go! The atheist considers this for a moment, and then looks to the heavens once more and shouts: is there anyone else up there?

It’s an amusing story – more so perhaps, because it’s so easy to see ourselves in it. We’re not atheists – at least not strictly speaking – nor is it likely that we have fallen off any cliffs, but most if not all of us will probably have experienced dangers or perils of some kind or other. Our cliffs might take the form of illnesses, or crises at work, in the family, or in our other relationships. Or, they might simply involve our more mundane struggles to fulfill our many responsibilities, even Christian responsibilities, in life. However we might experience it, falling off the cliff makes us feel our own weakness and inability to help ourselves. They make us realize our need for a saviour. And yet, even as we cry out to God for help, isn’t there also often a part of us that finds it hard to trust fully in the One whose help we seek? We hang on for dear life to other supports, whether they be particular persons, a career, or some particular religious belief or practice. We feel the need to keep all our bases covered. It’s difficult to trust in God alone, it’s difficult fully to let go and let God. That is why we need to listen closely to what our readings have to teach us on this Second Sunday of Lent.

Today, the action takes place on two mountain-tops. We begin with Moriah. Quite naturally, we will notice first that this is the mountain of sacrifice. It’s the place, where God makes the horrendously unthinkable request of Abraham: to kill his only son, Isaac – born to him when Abraham was already a hundred years old. Obviously the point of the story is not that we should be willing to perform human sacrifice at God’s bidding. Rather, we are being called to imitate Abraham’s obedience to God, his determination to let nothing come between him and his God, not even his own beloved son, through whom God had promised to make him a great nation.

From where does Abraham’s determination, his obedience, come? Is it not his profound faith and trust in God – that Isaac would be safe with God – and that in spite of the apparent loss of his only son, God would still somehow make good on His promise? The words of our responsorial psalm come to mind: I trusted even when I said, ‘I am sorely afflicted.’

And Abraham’s trust does not go unrewarded. Here, we see a second important aspect of Moriah. Not only is it the mountain of sacrifice, but it is also the place of blessing. Abraham’s trust in God opens him to God’s bountiful blessings. Because you have done this… -- because you’ve obeyed me, because you’ve trusted in me, because you’ve not been afraid to let go – I will shower blessings on you. And these blessings are not just for Abraham, but also for many others. I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore…. All the nations shall bless themselves by your descendants, as a reward for your obedience.

On Moriah we learn that through obedient trust in God the sacrifice of one is transformed into blessings for many.

But seeing more clearly the lesson of Moriah is not quite the same as living it more nearly. We all know we need to trust God, but trust has gradually to be cultivated. It cannot be forced, nor can it be rushed. How then does one come to have the trust in God that Abraham had?

For this we need to climb the second mountain in our readings today. As with Moriah, there are also two important aspects to Tabor. Quite obviously, it is first the mountain of transfiguration. On Tabor, Peter, James and John are graced with an experience of Jesus in His glory. They hear the Father telling them: this is my Son, the Beloved.

We too have our own Tabors. Whether it is a seminar, or a retreat, a talk, or even a walk in the park – whatever the medium, the important thing is that we are graced with an awareness of who this Jesus is, whom we follow. Our spiritual life is given a much-needed shot in the arm. We experience a spiritual high. And we begin to take our prayer more seriously. We begin to get more involved in church activities and so on.

Important as the transfiguration is, however, there is yet a deeper significance to Tabor. To discover this, we need to pay closer attention to its biblical context. In all three of the gospels where this story appears, it is sandwiched between two predictions by Jesus of his impending suffering, death and resurrection. Seen in this light, more than just the mountain of transfiguration, Tabor is also the place of preparation for the passion. It is on Tabor that Jesus and the three disciples are offered the strength to weather the storms that lie ahead. It is on Tabor, that the disciples are reminded by the Father not only of who Jesus is, but also that they should listen to him. However, this deeper significance of Tabor – its connection to the cross of Christ, and to the crosses that will inevitably enter every Christian life – will be missed if we, like Peter, insist on remaining on the mountain-top, insist on clinging on for dear life to the spiritual highs that we have experienced.

The true meaning of Tabor is learnt only when we accompany Jesus down the mountain.

For it is only when we do so, that we see the story of Abraham and Isaac replayed in the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is only when we accompany Jesus to Calvary, and beyond, that we see how, by His humble obedience and unwavering trust in His heavenly Father, Jesus’ one sacrifice is transformed into the blessing of eternal life for all. In Jesus, we see the truth of what we heard in the second reading: that like Abraham, God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all. This sacrifice demonstrates, once and for all, that God is indeed on our side. And with God on our side who can be against us?

This reassurance strengthens us and serves as the unshakeable foundation of our own trust in God, especially when we have to climb our own Moriah’s and Calvary’s – when we, in our turn, experience the call to sacrifice what is dearest to us – when we, like that atheist in the story, hear the call to let go and surrender ourselves into the hands of God.
My sisters and brothers, if the Christian life indeed consists in a continual movement between Moriah and Tabor, then the important thing, for each and all of us, is to resist the temptation to remain on any one or other of these mountains, sacred though they may be. My sisters and brothers, on this Second Sunday of Lent, how are we being called to let go and to keep moving, to follow Christ and to place our trust in God alone?

No comments:

Post a Comment