Second Sunday of Lent Year B
There are few lines and promises in scripture that leaves us speechless. But the words of St Paul in today’s second reading must be one of those occasions. He begins with the rhetorical question, “With God on our side, who can be against us?” We already know the answer to that question. No one, absolutely no one can stand against us. “With God on our side, who can be against us?” In fact in a few verses below, St Paul would express his firm convictions “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39) With the certainty that God is for us, who then can be against us?
This speechless grace-filled moment of revelation is depicted visually in the scene of the Transfiguration that we witness today in the gospel. Jesus had predicted his passion and the disciples continue to wrestle with the horror and impact of these words. The Messiah’s words that He would be tortured and killed in Jerusalem would have deeply troubled His disciples. A vision of the crucifixion might have evoked the feeling of despair in Christ’s disciples, the thought that everything was irrevocably lost. It would have shaken their faith to the core. How could they possibly endure this enormous trial that lay ahead of them? No wonder that when it was first announced, it was St Peter who remonstrated with Jesus in order to convince his Master not to proceed with this suicidal plan. Thus, the Transfiguration takes place as God’s answer to their anxieties and concerns. This event, in fact, took place for the purpose of preparing the Apostles for the difficult ordeals of the Passion.
Jesus wanted to show the Apostles closest to him the splendour of the glory that shines forth in him, which the Father confirms with the voice from above, revealing his divine sonship and his Mission. This dual theme of divine sonship and mission recalls the sacrifice of Abraham. You have heard it said that the Transfiguration on Mt Tabor prefigures the future, the Crucifixion on Mt Calvary. But today’s readings, especially the first reading, draws a trajectory to the past, to Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac on Mt Moriah. The Transfiguration of the Lord was to be the Father’s demonstration of what his “beloved Son” truly is, the One whom he will permit to be slaughtered for and by mankind.
For the Jews, Abraham’s sacrifice is, with good reason, the climax of their relationship with God, and they emphasise that it was a double sacrifice: the sacrifice of a father, who draws his knife, and the sacrifice of a son, who agrees to his own slaughter. But Abraham and his son isn’t the real deal, as the slaughter does not take place. In scriptural language Abraham can be described as being merely a type or anticipation of a future perfection and reality.
The similarities between the story of Abraham’s sacrifice and the fate of Jesus is obvious but also highlights an additional problem. The horror and scandal of God’s decision. There is something disturbing about this event in which a father's faith and trust in God reach their apex. The horror that God would command a father to kill his own son, the son of his own body, is apparent. But there is a greater horror. This was the same son which God had miraculously given to Abraham in his extreme old age, a son destined to accomplish the divine promises. And so when God commands Abraham to kill his own son, it would seem that God contradicts himself. Yet though the command may be incomprehensibly contradictory and defies any human logic, Abraham obeys.
How could we understand this paradox of God? The second reading provides the solution to the apparent paradox – “Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give.” God is not an uncaring father who sadistically wishes ill upon his own son. In the words, he “did not spare him," we hear the immensity of the difficulty and the obstacle. God did not delight in the pain, the dishonour or even the death of his Son. This was an infinitely horrible thing for the Son of God to be treated this way. Sin reached its worst in the hours of His suffering and death. It was exposed for what it really is – an attack on God, a rejection of God, an assault on his rights and his truth and his beauty. And yet knowing the full implications God did not spare his Son this treatment. But why would God do this?
It is here that we see God reveals himself as love in essence, a love that does not contradict itself if it sends the Son of God into real death and thereby fulfils the promise to “give everything,” namely to bestow life, eternal life. This is the mystery of divine love revealed in the sacrifice of the Cross. Divine love for man and the horror of sin gather here, and divine love would emerge as the undisputable victor. He who withheld Abraham's arm when he was at the point of immolating Isaac, did not hesitate to sacrifice his own Son for our redemption. Here the extreme is not the one-sided obedience of man in the face of an incomprehensible command of God, rather it is the way the Son’s obedient willingness to enter death for the sake of everyone is united with the Father’s willingness to sacrifice to the point of not holding back his Son in order to give us everything.
God is with us! God is with man! The only and complete proof of this is and always remains the following: “Since God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all, we may be certain, after such a gift, that he will not refuse anything he can give.” In this, God is not only with us, as in the promise of Isaiah, “Emmanuel,” but is ultimately “for us”, his chosen ones. In this he has not merely given us something great, but has given us everything he is and has. Now God is completely on our side that any indictment or attack or threat against us loses all its force. No one can excuse us before God’s judgment seat, because the Son of God is the irrefutable evidence and the undefeatable advocate that silences all charges made against us. What an impact this should have on our lives! Unlike the world, we Christians should no longer fears sickness and theft and terror and loss of job and a dozen other things. “With God on our side, who can be against us?”
In this perspective the true meaning of the illuminating light radiating from the Son on the mountain in today’s gospel can be understood. It is the radiant truth of perfect surrender, incomprehensible love – it shows what the Father has really given up to “slaughter” for the world, what the new Isaac permits to be done to himself out of obedient love toward the Father, what the overshadowing luminous cloud veils into divine mystery. Within this scene, we see the triumph of that great sacrifice, not by man, but by God himself, we see the light of the Sons’ Death and His Resurrection, we see the truth what St Paul has written, “With God on our side, who can be against us?” We see Love Enfleshed!