Sadly, the lectionary misses out verse 8 of this chapter, which reads: “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:8 ESV). In the original Hebrew, there is no punctuation, leading to potential ambiguity over this passage. In what ways might this provide a context to the passage in light of Jesus?
This dramatic scene concludes with a solemn oath on the part of the angel of the Lord. Here we have an example of a conflation of the ‘angel of the Lord’ and ‘the Lord’ himself. The angel of the Lord says “it is the Lord who speaks”. Is this an example, as early as Genesis, of plurality in God; something which will become much more obvious with the birth of Jesus and the revelation of the Trinity?
Psalm: Psalm 115(116):10, 15-19
This psalm refers to a thanksgiving sacrifice, just as the first reading referred to a burnt offering; these were two of the forms of sacrificial worship that were prescribed in the Law of Moses, and which we can see perfected in Christ. Jesus is the perfect burnt offering, offered up without reserve on the cross and whose offering opened for us the way to the presence of God. Jesus also provided for us the perfect thanksgiving sacrifice in the Eucharist, a word which simply means ‘thanksgiving’.
The psalm calls us to trust even in the midst of trials and even to offer thanks despite the suffering. There is a resolve in the psalmist to remain faithful and to keep on walking in the Lord’s ways. In what ways can we see comfort and hope in those words today?
Second Reading: Romans 8:31-34
The thread of trust in the Genesis reading and in the psalm is picked up in the passage from Romans: now that God has given up his own Son for us and infallibly demonstrated that he is for us, what is there in the world to fear? How might we know that more deeply today?
Romans 8 is the height of the letter to the Romans, it is full of the most precious promises in the Bible. It is worth reading the whole chapter and reflecting on the amazing promises God offers in those words.
Gospel: Mark 9:2-10
The Transfiguration story is well known; Jesus’ glory was displayed and there appeared alongside him Moses and Elijah. Traditionally Moses represents the Law and Elijah the Prophets; but there is also another dimension at play. These were both Old Testament figures who in some sense were expected to return at the time of the Messiah; Moses promised someone like himself would come (Deuteronomy 18:15) and Malachi prophesied the return of Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6). In light of this, what could there appearance alongside Jesus signify?
This extraordinary event is recounted as having taken place just before Jesus began his journey to Jerusalem to suffer his Passion. The Fathers of the Church taught that this was to strengthen the disciples for those days. In what ways does it provide strength and encouragement to us today?
As often in Mark’s gospel, Jesus asked for silence by those who came to know who he was. He does so here, ordering Peter, James, and John to say nothing about the Transfiguration until after the Resurrection. Why would that be?
There is a verse in Luke’s gospel which haunts me: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51 ESV). Other translations say Jesus turned ‘resolutely’ towards Jerusalem. It’s a turning point in Jesus’ life, the moment when his teaching ministry in Galilee drew to a close, and he began his procession towards the Passion.
Lent is the time when we follow with Jesus in that procession towards Calvary when we relive the crux of our salvation and rededicate ourselves to him. We set our faces resolutely towards him.
The gospels, though, preserve an account around the time of this turning point, which is worth considering, and the lectionary offers it to us today: the Transfiguration. It’s that occasion when Jesus went up a mountain with Peter, James, and John, and they saw an incredible glimpse of his divine glory. Why did this happen when it did? The Fathers of the Church taught that it was to strengthen the disciples, to put fresh hearts into them ahead of the difficult days ahead in Jerusalem. In that spirit of strengthening our resolve, the Church offers us the Transfiguration today, on the second Sunday of Lent.
The Transfiguration is a theophany, a revelation of God. It’s the moment when the glory of Christ as God was manifest to his disciples visibly for the first time. The second letter of Peter explains: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honour and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”, we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain.” (2 Peter 1:16-18 ESV)
In the gospel text we see the Trinity revealed; Jesus on the mountain, transfigured and dazzling; a “cloud came” which is a symbol of the Holy Spirit; and the Father’s voice from heaven spoke. Peter’s impulse to worship is right! But Jesus had a mission yet to fulfil; he had set his face to go to Jerusalem.
In that context, though, we should hear the words of St. Paul from the second reading: “With God on our side, who can be against us?”
The way of the cross is hard. Jesus suffered much, and we who call ourselves Christian will have trials as well. But today, the Scriptures offer us strength in our faith and trials: “there at God’s right hand he [Jesus] stands and pleads for us”.
No matter how dark life gets, no matter what suffering we face, no matter what chaos the world descends into, no matter what burdens our hearts and causes us sorrow, there, just beyond our human sight if we could pierce the veil, stands the risen and transfigured Jesus. In the cloud of the Holy Spirit, pleading for you, for all of us to the Father – “We may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give.”
CCC 554-556, 1137-1139 (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Liturgy of the Hours, The Transfiguration of the Lord, Office of Readings, Second Reading