LENT II (B)
Rabbi, it is good that we are here. – Mark 9: 5
Today, we have a tale of two mountains. The first involves Abraham while the second involves our Lord & three of his apostles. First, Abraham. This story has puzzled people for a long time. It makes God look like a sadist of some kind. Who would demand the sacrifice of your only child, especially if he is the guarantee of generations to come?
Two things may be said here. First, the author of the story did not think in abstract terms the way we do. He had to tell a concrete story to get the point cross. The point here is that Yahweh does NOT require human sacrifice, unlike the religions that surrounded them. Secondly, it can be taken as a parable. The point is that God is God & we are not. He is a God who cannot be manipulated. Abraham, on the other hand, is a totally dependent being who is challenged to cling to this utterly sovereign God in good times & bad, no matter what.
The hard lesson of this mountain experience story for us is to open ourselves to the God who cannot be understood, who is beyond our scheming, who rains on our picnics, who allows humans to be inhuman. Only this God is worth our allegiance. Trust Him. Our insufferable pride makes it difficult to bow to this reality, but somewhere along the line, says the story, we must cry out with Abraham, “Here I am!” & kneel down.
The second mountain story is the Transfiguration. Jesus had been doing His ministry in the lowlands of rural Galilee with no mountain in sight. Suddenly & without warning, the grade in Mark’s narrative turns sharply upward & we find ourselves with Peter, James & John on a high mountain apart, seeing things we never expected to see or missed in the lowlands.
This event becomes a symbol of the need to come apart & look at things from a different angle. It’s an invitation to scale the heights to see what we could not see in the valley. In other words, this story is the Lenten motif: Come apart, spend some quiet time in prayer, make a day or evening of recollection. Ascend the mountain to refresh your spiritual vision & recapture the splendors, the brightness, the insights you have lost down in the busy valley.
Notice that only three of the Apostles were witnesses to this new vision. Why? Why these three? Was it because Peter was head of the Apostles, because John was the beloved disciple, & because James would be the first apostle to die for the new faith? Perhaps, but Jesus I suspect had deeper reasons.
These three had witnessed a powerful experience & insight on Mount Tabor into who Jesus really was. They were rightly overcome by such splendor, such privilege, but eventually they became cocky, oversure of themselves. Later on, when Jesus predicted that they would flee in His dire hour of need, Peter was very vocal in his denial that he would ever be unfaithful, & the other two would shamelessly ask for places at Jesus’s right & left in His kingdom.
When the time came Jesus took these same three apostles with Him into the inner sanctum of the Garden of Gethsemane. How did these fair-haired apostles fare? They failed Him; they fell asleep. Moreover, the promised spots on Jesus’ right & left were filled by two thieves on Golgotha.
Once more, the Gospel becomes a story of pride coming before the fall; a warning to us & a reminder that, for all our baptismal promises, we too have broken them, have fled Jesus & gone back on our word. That is why we have Lent: to repent, as eventually did a more humbled Peter, James, & John. AMEN!