Other Sunday and Holy Day Readings
2nd SUNDAY IN LENT (Cycle B)
All Scripture passages are from the New American Bible unless designated NJB (New Jerusalem Bible), IBHE (Interlinear Bible Hebrew-English), IBGE (Interlinear Bible Greek-English), or LXX (Greek Septuagint Old Testament translation). CCC designates a citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The word LORD or GOD rendered in all capital letters is, in the Hebrew text, God's Divine Name YHWH (Yahweh).
God's divine plan for mankind is revealed in the two Testaments and that is why we reread and relive the events of salvation history contained in the Old and New Testaments in the Church's Liturgy. The Catechism teaches that the Liturgy reveals the unfolding mystery of God's plan as we read the Old Testament in light of the New and the New Testament in light of the Old (CCC 1094-1095).
The Theme of the Readings: The Beloved Son
Our Lenten season began with the story of Jesus' testing by Satan in the wilderness, and this Sunday we continue with another story of testing. In the First Reading, we hear how God put Abraham to the test when he is told to offer up his "beloved son", Isaac, as a sacrifice on a mountain (Gen 22:1-2). In the Second Reading, St. Paul uses the same words from the story of Abraham's test to describe how God did not withhold His "beloved son" but offered up Jesus for us as a sacrifice on the Cross (Rom 8:32). In the Gospel Reading, Jesus is called God's "beloved Son" on a mountain just as Isaac was described as Abraham's "beloved son" in Genesis 22:2.
The Church has always read Abraham's story of testing and faith in the offering up of his beloved son Isaac in sacrifice as a foreshadow of how God, like Abraham, did not withhold His beloved Son but offered Him up on the Cross for all the beloved sons (and daughters) in the human family as a sign of His love for the world. Jesus is the true Son that Abraham rejoiced to see (Jn 8:56; Mt 1:1). He is the Son of God who was sent to suffer and die in atonement for our sins (Is 53:3) so that we might be strengthened in our tests of faith on our journeys to salvation and receive the hope of heaven in the blessing of union with the Most Holy Trinity at the end of our life's journey.
The First Reading Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13 ~ The Testing of
1 God put Abraham to the test. He called to him "Abraham!" "Here I am!" he replied. 2 Then God said: "Take your son Isaac, your only one whom you love [your beloved son], and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you."
9 When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. 10 Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the LORD'S messenger [Angel/Messenger of Yahweh] called to him from heaven, "Abraham, Abraham!" "Here I am!" he answered. 12 "Do not lay your hand on the boy," said the messenger. "Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son." 13 As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it up as a holocaust in place of his son. [..] = literal Hebrew translation IBHE, vol. I, pages 50-51.
No other event recorded in the Old Testament so prefigures the Passion of the Christ as Abraham's call to obedience in Genesis chapter 22. Genesis 22 is the last record of Abraham's direct experience with the Divine and records God's final command to His servant Abraham. The Jews call this event the akeidah, which means the "binding" of Isaac.
1 God put Abraham to the test. These events were taking place about ten years or more after Ishmael's exile when Isaac was at least 13 years old. Isaac is old enough to carry the wood for the sacrifice (Gen 22:6). The narrative begins with the reader being taken into God's confidence by being told that Abraham was being tested; it was God's plan that Abraham was to face a test of faith in a covenant ordeal. The importance of this opening statement allays any doubt concerning God's purpose in the covenant ordeal and that His purpose does not intend an actual human sacrifice. It should be noted that human sacrifice, especially child sacrifice, was widely practiced in parts of the Near East at this time. Archaeological excavations in Canaanite cemeteries have found hundreds of clay jars containing the bones of sacrificed children.
This event was a test of Abraham's faith, trust, and obedience. There is a difference between Satan testing us and God testing us. Satan tests us to destroy us (1 Chr 21:1; Mt 4:1; 1 Pt 5:8; Rom 6:23). God never tempts us to do evil (Sir 15:11-15; Jm 1:13-15). God only tests us to strengthen us and to give us the opportunity to prove ourselves worthy (Ex 20:20; Dt 8:2; 1 Kng 10:1; 1 Ch 29:17; 2 Chr 9:1; Dan 1:12, 14; Wis 3:1, 4-7; 1 Cor 10:13).
1b He called to him
"Abraham!" "Here I am!" he replied. 2 Then
God said: "Take your son Isaac, your only one whom you love [your beloved son],
and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a
height that I will point out to you."
The Hebrew word "Moriah" is from the root r'h = "to see" and its derivative nouns mar'a and mar'e, which mean "sight, spectacle, or vision" (Sinai & Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible, Jon Levenson, page 94-95). God first called Abraham in a test of faith and obedience when he was told to leave Ur and "go to the land I will show you" (Gen 12:1). In this final call, Yahweh again commanded Abraham "go to" but this time he was commanded "go to the land of Moriah." Genesis 22:4 identifies the land of Moriah as a significant 3 day journey from Abraham's camp at Beersheba. 2 Chronicles 3:1 identifies the Land of Moriah with the mountain range on which Jerusalem is located and the Temple of Yahweh would be built a thousand years after Abraham during the reign of King Solomon. It is significant that the same Hebrew words "go to" (lek-leka) are found in the first command in Genesis 12:1 and again in the final command in 22:2 (Interlinear Bible: Hebrew-English, page 27, 50; Waltke page 301). These particular words do not appear together anywhere else in the Old Testament (Waltke, page 301).
This was a test of faith and obedience, clearly stated in 22:1, but it was also a test of Abraham's trust that God was going to fulfill His covenant promises to Abraham despite what seemed to be insurmountable odds against the fulfillment of the promise of many descendants and the gift of the land if he sacrificed his "only son" (Gen 12:1-3; 15:5-6; 17:19). This is why Bible scholars, both ancient and modern, refer to Abraham's test as a "covenant ordeal." That the focus of the story involved Abraham's son is apparent in the repetition of the word "son." In the literal Hebrew text, the word "son" (ben) appears ten times in the narrative (Gen 22:2 (twice), 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, and 16), while the word "only" (yahid) son is found three times (Gen 22:2, 12, 16). Isaac is Abraham's "only beloved son" because Ishmael had been sent away. Isaac was the son God promised would father a nation of descendants for Abraham (Gen 17:19) in fulfillment of parts one and two of the three-fold covenant of land, descendants, and a world-wide blessing (Gen 12:1-3).
9 When they came to
the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there and arranged
the wood on it. 10 Then he reached
out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
Having carried the wood for his sacrifice, the beloved son was bound and laid upon the wood of the sacrifice. 2 Chronicles 3:1 identifies Mt. Moriah where Abraham was commanded to sacrifice Isaac as the name of the mountain elevation located in the city of Jerusalem upon which David had a vision of Yahweh and where he was commanded to build an altar. It is the same site upon which his son, King Solomon, built Yahweh's Temple. Jesus of Nazareth also carried the wood of His own sacrifice to which He was bound, and He was crucified on an elevation of Mt. Moriah below the Temple Mount, just outside the gates of Jerusalem.
10 Then he reached
out and took the knife to slaughter his son. 11 But the LORD'S messenger [Angel/Messenger of Yahweh] called to
him from heaven, "Abraham, Abraham!" "Here I am!" he answered. 12 "Do not lay your hand on the boy," said the
messenger. "Do not do the least thing to him. I know now how devoted you are
to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son." 13 As Abraham looked about, he spied a ram
caught by its horns in the thicket. So he went and took the ram and offered it
up as a holocaust in place of his son.
Abraham passed the test of his covenant ordeal. At the most dramatic moment, as Abraham was about to plunge the knife into the chest of his submissive son, the Angel of Yahweh stayed his hand by calling out to Abraham. The angel identified by God's covenant name, literally "The Angel/Messenger of Yahweh," makes his appearance in significant moments in salvation history (Gen 16:7-11; 22:11-15; Ex 3:2; Num 22:22-35; Judg 2:1, 4; etc., 2 Sam 24:16; 1 Kng 19:7; 2 Kng 1:3, 15; 19:35; etc.; Zec 12:8), and this is certainly one of those moments. He may be a manifestation of the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, the pre-Incarnate Christ active in the plan of salvation. He does tell Abraham: you did not withhold from me your own beloved son" (Gen 22:12).
The major difference in the outcome of the intended sacrifice is that Yahweh spared Abraham's son by providing a male sheep (ram) for the sacrifice while Jesus became the Lamb of sacrifice. But some questions remain: did Isaac struggle against his father when he was being placed on the altar? Why was Abraham prepared to go through with Yahweh's command to sacrifice his son? Evidently Isaac submitted and did not struggle, even though Scripture recorded that he was bound (Gen 22:9). The answer to the second question is provided by the inspired writer of the Letter to the Hebrews who writes that Abraham believed God would give him descendants through this son with whom the covenant was to continue. The inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews assures us that so great were Abraham's faith and trust in God's promises that he believed God would raise his son from the dead to keep those promises (Heb 11:17-18). God kept His covenant promises to the new Israel of the New Covenant Church by raising His beloved Son from the dead (Mt 20:17-19).
In their commentaries on this passage, the Fathers of the Church point out that when the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham and showed him the male lamb "caught up" (sebeck in Greek and achaz in Hebrew) in a tree to offer up in sacrifice in place of the boy, Abraham realized that Yahweh had indeed provided the sacrifice. In that moment Abraham's son was given back to him on the third day after their journey of death had begun. The Fathers saw this event as foreshadowing the Passion of the Christ who was also "caught up" on the tree of the Cross and was given back to the Father on the third day after His resurrection.
Abraham's willingness to trust God with his life and the life of his son was not just belief; it was a work of faith. We are all called to "works of faith" in our journeys to salvation. St. James, in writing to the Church about the necessity of living and active faith held Abraham up as an example of such faith: Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You can that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works. Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says "Abraham believed in God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called "the friend of God" (Jam 2:21-23).
Responsorial Psalm 116:10, 15-19 ~ Walking with the Lord
The response is: "I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living."
10 I believed, even when I said, "I am greatly afflicted."
15 Precious in the eyes of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.
16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your handmaid; you have loosed my bonds. 17 To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.
18 My vows to the LORD I will pay in the presence of all his people, 19 in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
Psalms 113-118 are called the Hallel ("praise God") Psalms and were sung in the Temple on special feast days including the Feast of the Passover. In verse 10 the psalmist testifies that he kept his faith even during times of great distress. Expressing grief over misfortune does not imply a lack of faith.
Then in verses 15-19, the psalmist writes about how God watches over the lives of the righteous and their deaths are a matter of significance because they are precious to God who accepts their deaths as a sacrificial offering. The psalmist sees himself as a "beloved son"/servant of the Lord God who has been raised to know and love God all his life—from the teaching of his mother, the Lord's "handmaid." He expresses confidence that God watches over him. Even in times of distress, he attends worship in God's holy Temple, and despite his troubles, as a faithful son/servant he offers up a sacrifice of thanksgiving in the liturgy of communal worship as he fulfills his vows and praises the Lord. The responsorial phrase "I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living" is from verse 9 and refers to the psalmist's participation in Temple liturgy where he stands in the presence of God and which is a foretaste of heaven—the true "land of the living." The phrase that is our response: "I will walk before the Lord, in the land of the living," is an epithet association with worship in the Jerusalem Temple and is also found in Psalms 27:13; 52:7; and Isaiah 38:11.
The Second Reading Romans 8:31-34 ~ We are the chosen
sons and daughters acquitted by Christ
31 If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, now will he not also give us everything else along with him? 33 Who will bring a charge against God's chosen ones? It is God who acquits us. 34 Who will condemn? Christ Jesus it is who died—or, rather, was raised—who also is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us
Verse 31 sums up what it means to be a beloved son/daughter in God's family through the Sacrament of Baptism. St. Paul gives us the promise that the elect will emerge victorious from all the attacks and sufferings in life, since it is God who acquits His chosen of their sins through His beloved Son. We have died with Christ in Baptism, and we have also been raised with Christ to new life (Rom 6:4-5). God the Son now sits at the right hand of God interceding for us in our earthly struggles and ready to greet us when our journey is completed (Eph 2:4-6).
The Gospel of Mark 9:2-10 ~ The Transfiguration of the Beloved Son
2 After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. 4 Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. 5 Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." 6 He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. 7 Then a cloud came casting a shadow over them; then from the cloud came a voice, "This is my beloved Son. Listen to him." 8 Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them. 9 As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.
This experience with the divine is the revelation of the Kingdom for three of the Apostles. The same experience is recorded in Matthew 17:1-8 and Luke 9:28-36. The disciples and Apostles must have been frightened and discouraged after Jesus' prediction of His death in Mark 8:31-33. To give them a vision to grasp in their darkest hour when the prediction of His death is fulfilled, Jesus took three Apostles: Peter, James and John Zebedee, up a "high mountain" to let them witness a manifestation of His glory that confirms He is the Son of God and that He will come in glory when all has been fulfilled. Their selection was not a demonstration of favoritism. God does not have "favorites." It was instead a demonstration of hierarchy in the future administration of Christ's kingdom. Mighty works/revelations of God often took place on mountains, including the Theophany of God on Mt. Sinai (see Gen 22:2, 11; Ex 19:16-20; 1 Kng 18:19-39; 19:11-18; 1 Chr 21:15-17; 2 Chr 3:1; and Mt 5:1-2).
As the new Moses, Jesus ascends the mountain; He does this not to find a revelation of God but to give a revelation of God the Son to His three Apostles. There are two traditions identifying the mountain. One tradition names Mt. Hermon near Caesarea Philippi, but the more popular tradition names Mt. Tabor, an isolated mountain about eight day's journey for a religious Jew (a religious Jew could not travel on the Sabbath) from Caesarea Philippi, west of the Sea of Galilee in the northeast portion of the Plain of Esdraelon that rises to a height of 1,843 feet. Mt. Tabor has been celebrated as the site of the Transfiguration since the 4th century AD.
2b And he was
transfigured before them, 3 and
his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach
In Greek the word "transfigured" is metamorphoo from which we get the word metamorphosis.
Mark records ... and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke add that Jesus' face changed and became radiant like the sun (Mt 17:21; Lk 9:29). The phenomenon of the changed face recalls the description of Moses' radiant face after being in the presence of God (Ex 34:29-35), and His white garment also recalls Daniel's vision of the "man" (probably the pre-Incarnate Christ) dressed in linen with a belt of fine gold around his waist, whose body was like chrysolite, his face shone like lightening, his eyes were like fiery torches, his arms and feet looked like burnished bronze, and his voice sounded like the roar of a multitude (Dan 10:5-6).
4 Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Moses and Elijah represent for the covenant people the Law and the prophets. In St. Luke's account of the Transfiguration, he tells us that Moses and Elijah appeared in glory and discussed with Jesus the coming hour of His "exodus," meaning His departure, "from Jerusalem," referring to His Passion (Lk 9:30-31). The disciples and Apostles knew Jesus in His human form, but in the encounter on the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus revealed Himself in His divine glory. In the epiphany on the Mount of Transfiguration, the three Apostles witnessed the coming together of the Old and New Covenants with Christ as the beginning and the end of divine revelation. The Old Covenant Church was represented by Moses and Elijah who embodied the law and the prophets of the old Israel, and the New Covenant was represented by Peter, James, and John who embodied the hierarchy of the new Israel, the Church of the people of the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. It was a vision of the supernatural the Apostles would need to strengthen themselves and their brother Apostles in the covenant ordeal they were to face in the climax of the final year of Jesus' ministry.
5 Then Peter
said to Jesus in reply, "Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three
tents: one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." 6 He hardly knew what to say, they were
St. Peter addresses Jesus as "teacher" and makes a request that seems bizarre unless one takes into consideration the seven holy feast days of the Old Covenant; see the chart: The Seven Sacred Feasts of the Old Covenant.htm. It is significant that Jesus does not rebuke Peter. St. John's Gospel does not mention the Transfiguration. St. John rarely repeats what has been sufficiently covered in the Synoptic Gospels, but he does mention in the second year of Jesus' ministry that He went to Jerusalem for the pilgrim feast of Sukkoth, known in English as the Feast of Booths/Shelters or Tabernacles (Jn 7:1-2, 10). The covenant obligations for the festival are given in Lev 23:33-43. In verse 42 God commanded: During this week every native Israelite among you shall dwell in booths, that your descendants may realize that, when I led the Israelites out of the land of Egypt, I made them dwell in booths, I, the LORD am your God."
If it was indeed near the time for the pilgrim feast of Booths, Peter's suggestion about making booths/tents on the mountain is reasonable. Peter has realized that the old covenantal order is no longer binding, and it is not necessary to go to the Jerusalem Temple to worship God when they can worship God the Son on the mountain. If this is why Peter made the suggestion about building booths, then the event of the Transfiguration took place near the time of the festival of Booths/Tabernacles in the early fall. St. John tells us that Jesus did travel to Jerusalem for the Feast of Booths in the second year of His ministry (Jn chapters 7-8).
7 Then a
cloud came casting a shadow [episkiazo] over them; then from the cloud came a
A cloud is a frequent vehicle for the manifestation of God's presence in Scripture (see Ex 16:10; 19:9; 24:15-16; 33:9, 34:5; 2; 40:34; Dan 7:13; 2 Mac 2:8; Acts 1:9; Rev 11:12; 14:14). For example:
The Greek word in Mark 9:7 for the shadow of the cloud cast over them is episkiazo. It is the same word found in the account of the Holy Spirit overshadowing the Virgin Mary in the Incarnation (Lk 1:35), and it is the same word that is used in the Greek translation of Exodus when God's Spirit overshadowed the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 40:34).
The voice from heaven is the same voice that was heard when Jesus was baptized (Mk 3:11). It was in Jesus' baptism that for the first time the Most Holy Trinity was clearly manifested in an event. The same manifestation takes place in the Transfiguration: God the Father's voice is heard from heaven, God the Son is present in His glory, and God the Holy Spirit is represented by the overshadowing cloud.
"This is my beloved Son. Listen to him."
In this significant event, Jesus is "transfigured" both in time and meaning to the event of Peter's confession of Jesus as the "Messiah and the Son of the Living God" (Mt 16:16; also see Mk 8:29; Lk 9:20) and the prediction of His coming Passion (Mt 16:21-23; Mk 8:31-33; Lk 9:22). The pronouncement of the Divine Voice, "this is my beloved Son," is confirmation of Peter's confession of Jesus as Messiah, and the command: "Listen to Him," is a warning to listen to Jesus' announcement of His coming Passion and to cooperate in His mission.
The command of the Divine Voice of God from heaven, "Listen to Him," is also a confirmation that Jesus is the prophet like Moses that God promised the covenant people in Deuteronomy 18:15-19. That prophecy ends with a promise and a command: I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen, and will put my words into his mouth; he shall tell them all that I command. If any man will not listen to my words which he speaks in my name, I myself will make him answer for it (Dt 18:18-19 NJB).
looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.
Like the children of Israel who heard the voice of God in the Theophany at Sinai (Ex 20:18), and like the prophet Daniel who experienced a divine apparition (Dan 9:15-18; 10:7-9), the three Apostles are amazed at what they experienced. "At that time" (Lk 9:36b; Mk 9:9-10) they did not tell anyone about their experience, but later they not only spoke of it but wrote about it. Peter wrote about the Transfiguration in a letter to the universal Church: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that unique declaration came to him for the majestic glory, "This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased." We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven while we were with him on the holy mountain (2 Pt 1:16-18).
9 As they were
coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen
to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 So they kept the matter to themselves,
questioning what rising from the dead meant.
Coming down from the mountain after the Transfiguration experience, Jesus commanded the three Apostles not to make known what they have discovered about Jesus' true identity. Notice he does not tell them to never tell about the experience. He only asks them to remain silent until His death and resurrection.
10 So they
kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.
It is a reasonable question. Did "rising from the dead" mean to have life returned so one could go one living a normal life as in the case of the little girl who was the daughter of the Synagogue official in Mark 5:38-43, or did it mean something else? It is a question that won't be fully answered until the Resurrection of the Messiah and His forty days teaching the Church between His Resurrection and His Ascension to the Father.
Abraham felt the wonder of God's love and mercy after passing a test of faith that must have been the darkest experience of his life (First Reading). The Psalmist felt his connection to God as a beloved son even in the midst of his affliction, and in faith he offered praise to God for His intercession in his life. And in the Gospel reading, the Apostles Peter, James and John, who had been feeling doubt and fear concerning Jesus' announcement of His Passion and death, became the privileged witnesses to His glory in the event of the Transfiguration of the Beloved Son that gave them confirmation of His divine nature. These experiences of God can be part of your life today when you claim in confidence the mantle of son/daughtership in the Sacrament of Baptism and in faith "walk before the Lord" in anticipation of one day being with Him "in the land of the living." After all, beloved children, it is as St. Paul wrote in the Second Reading: "if God is for us who can be against us!"
Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13 (CCC 1819); 22:11 (CCC 332)
Psalm 116:17 (CCC 1330)
Romans 8:31 (CCC 2852); 8:32 (CCC 603, 706, 2572); 8:34 (CCC 1373, 2634)
Mark 9:2 (CCC 552); 9:7 (CCC 151, 459); 9:9 (CCC 649)
Michal E. Hunt Copyright © 2015