The Heights of Faith
by Rev. Jack Peterson
Reprinted by permission of "The Arlington Catholic Herald"
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Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.
As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.
On the Second Sunday of Lent in Year B, the Church offers us the opportunity to reflect upon the beautiful faith of Abraham. As the story is relayed to us in Genesis, God asks Abraham to travel to the land of Moriah and offer his son Isaac as a holocaust on a height that He would point out.
On the one hand, this request makes no sense. God had promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the heavens. Abraham was quite old at this point, and Isaac was his only son. Why would God ask this of Abraham? Secondly, we know that child sacrifice is forbidden by God's law. Context helps with this point. We need to recall that Abraham represents a very early stage of God's saving work in history and of divine revelation. Abraham predates Moses and the law, in particular the Ten Commandments, which forbid murder. In addition, child sacrifice was an accepted practice in many cultures at the time of Abraham's call. This request would not have seemed as inappropriate to Abraham as it is for us today.
What explodes from this story is Abraham's radical trust in God. Abraham believes so profoundly in the goodness, wisdom and providence of God that he is willing to offer up his beloved son, trusting that God has a mysterious plan for some great good.
In sports, athletes speak of "leaving nothing out on the field." By that they mean that they play as hard as they can and hold nothing back for a later moment in the game or season. They play with the highest level of intensity and leave nothing in reserve, Abraham left nothing out in the field that day.
Of course, in the end, God does not demand the physical sacrifice of Isaac. However, the test proves that Abraham's faith is deep and real. God knows that a lasting covenant can be built on the faith of this man.
God ultimately fulfills His promise to Abraham in Christ, truly making his descendants as numerous as the stars in the heavens. Ironically, God does this by actually handing over His only begotten Son, who carries the wood for His sacrifice to the height of Mount Calvary.
In our Gospel passage for the day, Jesus goes up on a height. He takes Peter, James and John up on a mountain to pray. There He is transformed before they very eyes. His clothes become dazzling white. Jesus, whose glory is cloaked by the mantle of His humanity during most of His sojourn on earth, allows His glory to shine through for a few moments. He reveals His true identity as the Son of God and strengthens three prominent apostles. The Transfiguration was a privileged moment, an incredible blessing, and a source of great strength for Peter, James and John.
Lent is a time to prepare ourselves to see the glory of the risen Lord with the eyes of faith. We, like the apostles, need to prepare ourselves for this experience by means of prayer. The trio of apostles sees the glory of Jesus in the context of getting away from the grind of everyday life and taking time for prayer on the mountain height.
Additionally, our daily prayer needs to include listening. The voice of the Father comes from the cloud and proclaims: "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." A principle dimension of good prayer is developing the discipline of learning how to listen to Jesus. This requires spending plenty of time in prayer, being convinced that God wants to speak to me, and cultivating an open heart which is truly willing to listen to what Jesus has to say. Praying with the Scriptures, especially the Gospels, is the most critical way we can spend time listening regularly and consistently to Jesus.
This Lent, take time to climb the height of prayer. Take 10 to 15 minutes every day to pray with the Gospels, to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him. Ask for the faith of Abraham to trust with all of your being in God's loving plan for you and His beloved children.
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