Only Jesus...

Published on 23 Feb 2021

God did not spare his own Son but gave him up to benefit us all [1].  To save the world, the Father allows the Son to suffer and to die. The passion, death and resurrection of Christ bring about our salvation.  In Lent we prepare to remember and to celebrate the paschal mystery.  Already we look forward to the rising from the dead: after he had told the disciples of his coming Death, on the holy mountain he manifested to them his glory, to show, even by the testimony of the law and the prophets, that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection [2].  We meditate on sacrifice and at the same time on glory.  Alongside sober consideration of the demands of obedience to God there is joyful contemplation of the beauty of the divine presence among us.  Abraham’s only son, Isaac, whom you love [3] is like Jesus, my Son the Beloved [4].  Both Isaac and Jesus carry the wood on which they will be sacrificed [5].  Love prompts obedience to what the Father asks.  If you love me you will keep my commandments [6].  Divine love is inexhaustible.  Because you have not refused me your son, I will shower blessings on you [7].  Isaac is restored to Abraham. A happy future is assured. With his own logic, God now says to us: ‘because I have not refused you my Son, I will shower blessings on you.’  The Father’s gift of the Son is followed up with the lavish present of a happiness which will last forever. We may be certain that after such a gift, he will not refuse anything he can give [8].   The divine generosity overwhelms us.  We are spoiled. Yet, as we walk with Christ, there are opportunities, even demands, for service.  The Lord enables us to be and do good.  We accompany him penitent, grateful and as loving as we can be. We need not fear what lies ahead.

When Abraham and Isaac are walking together towards the land of Moriah, the son notices that provision has been made for the fire and the wood for the sacrifice but that the offering itself, a lamb, is wanting [9].  Abraham reassures him that God will provide all that is needed[10].   What seemed to be lacking is soon found.  Looking up, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns in a bush.  He took the ram and offered it as a burnt-offering in place of his son [11].   Jesus marches towards Calvary.  The Son of God is himself the lamb of sacrifice.  In the transfiguration we glimpse the glory that awaits that lamb that was slain.  When they raised their eyes, they saw no one but only Jesus [12].  The Son is offered for our sins.  There is no last minute escape from death for Christ.  Nevertheless, he rises again.  The resurrection is not a change of plan.  The risen Lord is not substituted for the crucified one, like the ram taking the place of bound Isaac. The sacrificial offering of the Son of God and its glorious outcome are anticipated by the transfiguration. His clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than earthly bleacher could make them[13].   We are invited to look forward to his coming out of the tomb and not only to the sufferings that will bring him to it. His appearance was like lightening and his clothing white as snow [14].  Jesus is not caught forever in the thicket of our misdeeds. He is not trapped in the sepulchre of our disobedience. The resurrection is his breaking out of everything that trammels and constrains.  His defeat of sin and death is the pattern of our freedom.  In the meantime, are we uncertain about what to sacrifice?  Is there a fear in us that we might be asked to give up what we love.  Are we unsure about which of all God’s gifts to us we should offer to him?  Jesus is the answer to all our questions. They saw no one but Jesus[15].  The Father has given us everything.  What does he want from us?  Gratitude? Service? Love?  These can prove too difficult for us to provide, at least consistently.  The Lamb has come down among us and has allowed himself to be enmeshed in our affairs. No other sacrifice is of any use except the one that he makes of himself.  What Isaac asks of Abraham naively or suspiciously, Jesus asks of us, inviting us to answer in faith, hope and love.  ‘Have you forgotten something? What will you offer?’   The Lord is himself the response to all our inquiries.  He, Jesus, not only died for us, he rose from the dead, and there at God’s right hand he stands and pleads [16].  Grateful love of Jesus is called for from us.  There is no better offering than he and no better response from us than devotion to him.  A thanksgiving sacrifice I make [17]. He suffers, dies and rises.  We are associated with this self-offering, not so much by the sinfulness for which it atones, but the by the love which it enables.  When God acquits, could anyone condemn?[18]   Isaac, unbound, walked back with his father to ordinary life.  We, set free by Christ, continue to walk with him as we go about our various tasks. The Father, the Son and the Spirit converse with each other.  We are permitted to hear the voice from the cloud [19]. This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him [20]. Our loving attention to the Lord is the offering that is now required of us.  Allowing ourselves to be ruled by him is the obedience which will bring us to eternal happiness.

In Lent we ascend the mountain with Christ, where they could be alone by themselves [21]. Our prayer in this holy season is directed by our Saviour.  As the holy Trinity communicates within itself, we are delighted eavesdroppers.  Lenten remembrance of the Transfiguration focuses our attention on the glory of God.  We are being guided by the Son towards the Father. The path up the mountain is both a meditation on the passion and a prayer for the transformation of everyday life. I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living [22].  We rise with Jesus.  He walks towards suffering and death as well as resurrection.  We try to keep up with him in his mission and in his trust in God. Like Peter, James and John we marvel at the proximity of Elijah and Moses. All that is happening and all that will happen is according to the eternal will of God, revealed to the prophets and patriarchs.  Abraham and Isaac tell us about the Father and the Son.  The pattern of all of this is being impressed upon our life.  Like Peter we are simultaneously joyful and fearful.  The apostle declares it is wonderful for us to be here [23] but at the same time he did not know what to say: they were so frightened [24].  We are with Jesus.  Why would we not be happy and confident?  Why should we not trust in his mission of salvation?  Why should we not look forward eagerly to future glory?   We are coming to understand that the road which we are on leads to Calvary as well as heaven.  We are in the company of the Lamb of sacrifice.  Unavoidable suffering saddens and frightens us.  We babble: let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah [25].   We want to hold on firmly to the graces that are conferred in us.  We pin down, as best we can, such insight and understanding as we acquire.  The scriptures enlighten us: we keep them close.  The sacraments bring us to Jesus: we treasure them and their absence pains us. Our prayer sustains us: we stick to it as faithfully as we can. The transfiguration points forward.  Such a glimpse of glory is, however, not for pinning down.  The Lord walks on. He does not disdain the tents but his journey cannot be delayed.  He is en route for Jerusalem, the holy city.  We are with him.  They saw no one with them any more, only Jesus [26].

Homily by Father Peter Gallagher SJ

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Photo by Mark Fletcher-Brown on Unsplash

[1]              Roman 8.31

[2]              The Roman Missal, The Second Sunday of Lent, Preface

[3]              Genesis 22.2

[4]              Mark 9.7

[5]              Genesis 22.6 and John 19.17

[6]              John 14.15

[7]              Genesis 22.16-17

[8]              Romans 8.32

[9]              Genesis 22.7

[10]            Genesis 22.8

[11]            Genesis 22.13

[12]            Mark 9.8

[13]            Mark 9.3

[14]            Matthew 28.3

[15]            Mark 9.8

[16]            Romans 8.34

[17]            Psalm (116b) 115.17

[18]            Romans 8.33-34

[19]            Mark 9.7

[20]            Mark 9.7

[21]            Mark 9.2

[22]            Psalm (116a) 114.9

[23]            Mark 9.5

[24]            Mark 9.6

[25]            Mark 9.5

[26]            Mark 9.8