The Second Sunday of Lent – 28th February 2021
Lectionary Readings: Gen 22:1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18; Ps 116:10, 15-19; Rom 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10
Theme: Withholding nothing from God
Araham’s name occurs nine times in our Genesis reading today. Pondering the extent of this repetition, I began to replace Abraham’s name in the text with its meaning, i.e. ‘father of a multitude’. This resulted in heightening the stark contrast between God’s promise to Abraham, that he would be the ‘father of a multitude’ and the task that Abraham now faces, i.e. God’s instruction that Abraham kill his ‘only’ son Isaac.
The instruction to kill Isaac, on the face of it, makes no sense. But Abraham is willing to do it. Perhaps Abraham knows something that makes such willingness an option? God called Abraham by name for this task, the name that means ‘father of a multitude’. So God had not forgotten God’s promise to Abraham. God also refers to Isaac as Abraham’s ‘only’ son although both God and Abraham know this is not the case. So already Abraham knows that all is not as it seems. When Abraham is called by name a second time and told not to ‘harm’ the boy, we discover the reason for the test and how Abraham has met the requirements of it, i.e. he has not ‘refused’ God his ‘only’ son, even though to do so would seem to undermine the very promises of God that he would be the ‘father of a multitude’. In Hebrew, the verb often translated ‘refused’ (ḥśk) has the meaning ‘withhold’ or ‘keep to himself’ This provides a sense of Abraham holding nothing back from God and herein lies the heart of the test. Because of Abraham’s response, God promises him, ‘I will shower blessings on you, I will make your descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore’. Paradoxically, the route to living up to his name as ‘father of a multitude’ was his willingness to not ‘withhold’ his ‘only’ son.
Death is also referred to in our Gospel reading from Mark. Here, Jesus’ disciples are perplexed about what ‘rising from the dead’ means. In this text we have people from various times in conversation, i.e. Moses, Elijah and Jesus. I wonder what they might have been talking about? Did Jesus tell the disciples what the conversation was about? Maybe they could hear the conversation from where they stood? As the disciples try to make sense of what they are witnessing, a cloud, sign of God’s presence (Ex. 40:34), tells them, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ And they realise that they are back in their own time, with ‘only Jesus’. (Mark 9:8)
What will they hear if they listen to Jesus? Maybe it’s something of the conversation he’s just had with Moses and Elijah on the mountain top? Maybe it is about Jesus’ readiness, like Abraham, not to ‘withhold’ anything from God? Our text strongly hints at the latter as we have Jesus speaking of a time after the Son of Man has risen from the dead; an acknowledgement already of his acceptance of what he will go through. Indeed, later in chapter 9, Jesus will again refer to his death (9:31). His awareness of his death, of his desire to not withhold anything from God, is in stark contrast to the conversation that the disciples have as they walk with him. Their minds are on other things as they argue with one another over who is the greatest (9:33-34). How quickly they came down from the mountain. And, still, Jesus stays and continues in conversation with them.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. ‘This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.’ What does it mean to listen to Jesus in your life? 2. Listening invites an active response. What do your actions say about what you hear? 3. What do you imagine Moses, Elijah and Jesus spoke about? How does this transform you?
Bibliography: Beavis, Mary Ann. Mark: Commentaries on the New Testament (Michigan: 2011).
This week’s Sunday Liturgy Commentary was prepared by
Thérèse Fitzgerald NDS, Ireland, Bat Kol Alumna: 2015, 2018