We have in our readings today two extraordinary religious experiences taking place on the top of mountains. It’s been a while since I was on the top of a high mountain but I remember it as a very exhilarating experience—the height, the thin air, the wind, the sense of achievement after a hard ascent, and the prospect of an easy and rapid descent. And there is the appreciation of beauties of nature in the tremendous view.
Although we speak only figuratively, there is also the sense of being close to heaven. Many people have profound religious experiences on the tops of mountains.
Here in our first reading there is the extraordinary story of the sacrifice of Isaac—or rather the non-sacrifice of Isaac. Abraham is put to the test by God, the sacrifice of his only son is demanded and Abraham obeys. Abraham is prepared to believe in the Lord God although he appears to be a very hard and demanding God demanding back the gift of this precious son born so late in life.
But Abraham accedes to the Lord’s stipulations and seizes the knife to kill his son. But then the angel intervenes and the ram is sacrificed instead. Abraham’s obedience brings him untold blessings which will pass from generation to generation. And even today we do exactly as God has said, we bless ourselves through his descendents because it is through them that salvation was brought definitively into the world.
And then Jesus takes his closest disciples up Mount Tabor where he was transfigured. There they see him transformed and radiant and Moses and Elijah appear next to him. Moses for the Law and Elijah for the Prophets. This is the sign that all that has gone before and recorded in the Old Testament is now come to fulfilment in Christ.
That close band of disciples see the glory of God shining through Jesus. They get a glimpse of his glory and realise that he is truly the Messiah and is greater that they could ever have imagined till now.
We are given this wonderful Gospel reading is given to us during Lent to remind us what we are about as disciples of Christ. It is presented to us to help us to realise that we are all called as Abraham was, called to follow the will of God in true obedience—even when it seems difficult or incomprehensible to us.
It is given to us to help us to realise that our main purpose in life is to experience a gradual transfiguration ourselves so that out from us radiates the love and holiness of our God. All our time, all our energy, all our work, all our leisure, all our encounters, all our thoughts and actions must increasingly radiate the glory of God.
What we are called to do is to enable the divine life which entered our souls at baptism to become more and more evident to others. The aim is that through our lives the splendour of the Father becomes ever more visible to the world.
Of course, the question we are left with is: how do we do this?
I think the answer is don’t get in the way. God knows what he is doing; like Abraham we might not find it comprehensible but ours is not to reason why. Ours is to let God act through us, for us to become conduits of his love, for us to hold back our egos and let God prove his love to the world by prompting us to act in this way or that way.
We need to step back in life to forget our own plans and to let the plans of God evolve. We all have examples of how he has worked wonders in our own lives and in the lives of those around us. But that doesn’t stop us from interfering. We see his Divine Providence one day and yet the next day we blame him for something
The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small, uninhabited island. He prayed fervently for God to rescue him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but none seemed forthcoming. Exhausted, he eventually managed to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect himself from the elements and to store his few possessions. One day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the sky. The worst had happened; everything was lost. He was stunned with grief and anger. "God, how could you do this to me?" He cried. Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to rescue him. "How did you know I was here?" asked the weary man of his rescuers. "We saw your smoke signal," they replied.
Father Alex McAllister SDS
Parish Priest of
St Thomas à Becket