SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
The account of the sacrifice of Isaac, the son of the promise, (first reading) announces another sacrifice, that of the Son of God. While Abraham, stopped by an angel, does not end up immolating Isaac, God, “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all” (Rm 8,32). Abraham saves his son in the moment in which he is about to sacrifice him; Jesus, the Son of God, after having undergone the ignominious death on the cross, gloriously resurrects and lives eternally: “Christ Jesus not only died for us – he rose from the death, and there at God’s right hand he stands and pleads for us” (Rm 8,34) (second reading). In the light of the Easter mystery, it is necessary to read also the gospel of the Transfiguration. With the luminous revelation of his glory, Jesus prepares his disciples to confront the scandal and pain of the cross, as a journey that carries to life and salvation (gospel).
The first reading (Gen 22,1-2.9a.10-13.15-18) narrates the known episode of the sacrifice of Isaac, the promised son by God to Abraham. The account is presented as “a test” (v. 1). God places the patriarch in the midst of a new and incomprehensible situation that forces him to give a free response; Abraham, through his response, will express what he really is. It does not simply treat of the sacrifice of a son, but of the sacrifice of his only son, whom he loves and represents the fulfillment of God’s promise. The old patriarch, that had renounced his past when he left his land, relatives and father’s house, to go to a land that the Lord would show him (Gen 12,1), now has to renounce also his future: the son is the deposit of the promises; without him the descendents disappear. Abraham is called to renounce two things: his only son and an experience of God that he already knows. Giving up his son, finishes with the test that sustains his faith; but docilely obeying God and accepting his ways in the painful obscurity of faith, a new knowledge opens up to the divine mystery. In this way Abraham is changed into father and model of faith for all believers: “Abraham is our father in the eyes of God, in whom he put his faith, and who brings the dead to life and calls into existence what does not yet exist. Though there seemed no hope, he hoped…” (Rm 4,17-18a). In this way, the account is a paradigm of the itinerary of faith. In Abraham is shown the way of the believer, of the man that is always ready to sacrifice everything to obey the Lord, and that is supported exclusively by him and trusts in his word even in the darkest and most painful moment.
The second reading (Rm 8,31b-34) forms part of the joyful and optimistic Pauline hymn with which ends the first part of the eighth chapter of his letter to the Romans. Paul sings enthusiastically of the love of God, manifested in the death and resurrection of his Son Jesus Christ. Paul reasons with a logic that goes from the greatest to the least If God has loved us until the unimaginable limit, giving up his Son to death for us, certainly he will follow us showing his faithful and saving love along the journey of history and in the interior of the itinerary of faith of each person: “Since he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for the sake of all of us, then can we not expect that with him he will freely give us all his gifts?” (Rm 8.32).
The gospel (Mk 9,2-10) of the Transfiguration is constructed in the light of the theophanies of the Old Testament and is a true anticipated proclamation of Easter’s glory. To capture the sense of the account, it is necessary to place it in the context of the first announcement that Jesus makes to his disciples about his passion and death (Mk 8,31) and of his teaching about the painful renunciation of the Messiah and his disciples (Mk 8,34-9,1). The episode of the Transfiguration is situated exactly “six days later” (Mk 9,2) from that first announcement and that first instruction of Jesus about the way of the cross. The narrated fact is contrasted with the anterior context. Jesus stops speaking of pain and of the cross; now he shows himself full of light and glory; now he does not reprehend Peter, that had not understood the mystery of the suffering Messiah (Mk 8,33), but together with James and John, takes him to the height of the mountain to make him a participant of his mystery of Easter and life.
Everything happens on “a high mountain” (v. 2), symbolic space of the transcendence and of the divine world. In the same way that God “is wrapped in light as in a robe” (Ps 104,2); the clothing of Jesus is transfigured full of resplendent light, letting be revealed the divine glory present in his person. The presence of Moses, that symbolizes the word of the Law, and of Elijah, that symbolizes the word of prophecy, indicates that with Jesus salvation history has arrived at its culmination. On the mountain, in effect, resounds the definitive word, the voice of the Father: “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him” (v. 7). To the disciples, is revealed this form of the mystery of Jesus: he is the Son. Precisely when they follow him to the cross, they experience the divine glory and listen to the voice of the Father. And so it will always be from now on: the glory of God and his word will reveal themselves where man and women follow Jesus on the way of love that is solidarity and suffering for others even to the cross. For the three disciples the experience was once. Right Peter exclaims: “Rabbi, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three shelters…” (v. 5). They have contemplated for a moment the unique, beautiful dignity of love in itself, the only one that it is necessary to desire and cultivate because it will be eternal; they have lived in history an instant of eternity, have tasted the joy of communion and of the love of God. However, history has to go on. It has not arrived at the end. The petition of Peter is illusory. Time cannot stop, the transitory cannot be made permanent. It is necessary to come down the mountain. And those men came down, but transfigured, with the certainty that the way of the Master is the only one that brings life. In the end, “when they looked around, the saw no one with them any more but only Jesus” (v. 8). Jesus appears alone, because only he is the way and the meaning of everything. The voice that they have heard on the part of God invites them to listen to him and follow him to the cross. Only then will they be able to enter definitively in that glory and beauty that they had contemplated and enjoyed before hand.
The lived experience on the mountain is a true revelation of the glory of Jesus. The glorious Christ of Easter, the beloved Son of the Father, is the same Jesus of Nazareth that journeys toward death and announces his sorrowful passion. The Transfiguration does not negate the cross, but is the revelation of its saving significance as the way that brings life. Through this experience, Jesus strengthens the faith of his disciples and introduces to them the paradox of Easter: a life that comes through death, a glory that is not evasion nor indifference in front of history’s pain, but goal and culminating point of crucified and faithful love. To this, the journey of Lent invites us: to enter with decision on the way of conversion and of the cross, to experience in us the life and joy of the new man that rises up from the Easter of Jesus.