Sunday, February 25, 2024

The PT is for the Passover

2nd Sunday in Lent (B)

Readings: Genesis 22: 1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Psalm 115 (116): 10, 15-19; Romans 8: 31-34; Mark 9: 2-10

Picture: By on Shawn Levie Unsplash

My dear friends, what do physical training sessions and pep talks have in common? Apart from sharing the same initials – PT – they’re both also what athletes typically have to undergo before a competition. Together, the training and the talks form part of a process of preparation, or stretching. Just as the training stretches bodies, the talks broaden vision, and strengthen resolve. Preparing the athletes to face the challenges ahead. And the more they bear this larger purpose in mind, the more benefit they will be able to draw from both training and talks alike.

We find something similar in our scriptures today. What do the two mountains have in common – the mountain of testing in the first reading, and the mountain of transfiguration in the gospel? Like the PT that athletes undergo, we need to see what happens on each of these mountains as part of a single process of preparation. Otherwise, we can easily be misled. It’s easy to be scandalised, for example, by the apparently unreasonable demand God makes of Abraham, as well as by Abraham’s blind obedience. Yet, unlike our global economy, which so many often worship as an idol, our God does not require the taking of human life. Neither our own lives, nor those of our children, nor those of the poor victims of trafficking and war. Instead of torturing him, God is mysteriously training Abraham. Stretching his ability to trust, even when he's sorely afflicted. Preparing him to receive the gift of becoming the father of a multitude of descendants.

Similarly, seen in isolation, it’s easy to mistake the transfiguration as a final resting place. As Peter seems to do. Yet, before ascending the mountain, Jesus had already told his disciples about the challenges he would soon have to face. His Passion, Death and Resurrection (8:31). And it’s only to prepare them to face these challenges with him, that the Lord leads them up the mountain, and lets them hear the heavenly Father’s brief but powerful pep talk: This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him. Listen! Not only now, when he’s gloriously transfigured. But also later, when he’s cruelly rejected and crucified. And not just to him speaking in person. But also in all who suffer. Listen! So as to receive the incredible gift of God’s own Son, given up to benefit us all.

Like PT for athletes, both testing and transfiguration prepare disciples for the Passover of the Lord. And this can happen not just at Mass in Lent, but also in daily life. Whenever we encounter times of trial, or moments of glory. We need to recognise and treat these as precious opportunities for stretching. As St Augustine of Hippo tells us: Suppose you are going to fill some… container, and you know you will be given a large amount. Then you set about stretching your sack…. Why?… By stretching it… you increase the capacity… and this is how God deals with us…. (H)e increases our desire, which in turn enlarges the capacity of our soul, making it able to receive what is to be given to us…

Sisters and brothers, how might we better prepare for Easter, by graciously allowing the Lord to stretch us this Lent?

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