2nd Sunday in Lent (B)
Picture: cc Heather Kennedy
My dear friends, do you know what a cataract is? It’s a condition where, due to age or illness, the normally clear lens in the eye becomes cloudy. So that one’s vision is blurred. And, if left untreated, the condition can eventually lead to blindness. Which is what happened recently to a dog belonging to someone I know. The poor animal developed cataracts in both eyes, and became blind. It kept bumping into things, and could no longer move around as freely as it used to. Out of pity, the owner decided to send the dog for eye surgery. The clouded lens in one of its eyes was replaced with a new one. And now the dog can see again. Can move about more freely.
I tell this story, my dear brothers and sisters, not because this is the Year of the Dog. But because I believe something like that is also happening in our Mass readings today. Something like a cataract operation. A procedure to replace the cloudy lenses in people’s spiritual eyes. So that they can see more clearly. Can move about more freely. And isn’t this what we prayed for just now in our Collect, our opening prayer? Nourish us inwardly by your word, we prayed, that, with spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory.
In the first reading, Abraham is made to undergo a trial, a test. And, at first glance, the test seems like a truly cruel one. Abraham is asked to sacrifice, to kill, his son Isaac. The same Isaac who was born only when Abraham was a hundred years old. The same son through whom God had earlier promised to make Abraham into a great nation. How could a loving God require such a terrible thing? And yet, there is perhaps another way of looking at the situation. For it may be that God is actually doing Abraham a favour. It may be that God is helping to clear Abraham’s spiritual vision, which, like ours, could so easily become clouded by the fear of losing the things and the people whom one considers the most precious.
It is precisely when he is able to trust in the goodness of God, and to let go even of his attachment to his beloved son, that Abraham receives new sight. We’re told that after obediently attempting to sacrifice Isaac, Abraham looked up and saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush, which he then takes and offers to God in place of his son. It’s as though, by making Abraham undergo this trial, God replaces the lenses of Abraham’s eyes with new ones. So that Abraham can see more clearly the generous love of God, who graciously supplies even the sacrificial offering itself. And who promises to continue providing for Abraham. Not just high up on the mountain of sacrifice, but also down below in the valley of everyday life. Not just now in the present moment, but also ever after, in the days ahead. And not just for Abraham’s own benefit, but also for the good of his descendants, and even of the whole world. I will shower blessings on you… All the nations of the earth shall bless themselves by your descendants…
A cataract operation is also something like what is happening in the gospel, taken from chapter 9 of Mark’s account. As you may recall, sisters and brothers, in Mark’s gospel there are two stories of blind men being healed. One in chapter 8 and one in chapter 10. Scholars tell us that this arrangement helps to highlight what Jesus is doing for his disciples in the three central chapters of Mark’s gospel. Repeatedly, in chapters 8, 9, and 10, Jesus predicts that he, the Son of Man, the saviour, has first to suffer and die, in order to rise again on the Third Day. In order to be a blessing to the whole world. To all who commit their lives to following Him.
But it’s not easy for the disciples to appreciate this. It is not easy for them to recognise a suffering saviour. Their vision is clouded by their expectations and attachments. And by their fear of suffering and death. Like Abraham, they need to undergo an operation. Their cloudy lenses must be replaced with new ones. Which is what the Transfiguration is meant to signify. Here, on a high mountain, Jesus’s three closest disciples, Peter, James and John, experience something even more brilliant than what Abraham encountered at Moriah. They see the glory of the Lord, and hear the Father’s words of identification and invitation. This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him. This is the Ram of Sacrifice. Lovingly offered to you that you may have life. Listen to him… Follow him… Let him be the lens through which you look at everything. So that even in the midst of your trials, you will continue to recognise God’s gracious providence. To experience God’s loving presence. In the words of the psalm, I trusted, even when I said: ‘I am sorely afflicted.’ …. I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living…
To be able to place our trust in God. To let go of the things to which we often cling so anxiously and so desperately. The craving for a more comfortable life, for example. The worry that our children may not perform well enough. The obsession with measuring up to the expectations of others… To let go of all these, and to receive, in their place, a new vision of God’s providence and care for us. To realise ever more deeply what the second reading reminds us. That God is on our side. And since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain… that he will not refuse anything he can give. To realise this truth, and so to receive the courage to follow Christ on the Road to Calvary. On the Way of the Cross. On the Path that leads to the Fullness of Life. The Path that involves laying down our lives, as Christ did, for the good of others. Not just for our immediate family and closest friends. But also for those most in need. Clarity of sight, and courage in discipleship. This is the grace that we seek especially in this season of Lent.
My dear sisters and brothers, it’s not just dogs who develop blurred vision. People often do too. How might the Lord be inviting us, you and me, to submit to a cataract operation today?