Sunday Scripture Readings

SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT,

MARCH 16

Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Psalm 116;

Romans 8:31-34; Mark 9:2-10

OUR GOOD NEWS: Discipleship (faithfully living our Christian lives) means transfigured existence with Christ now, hidden and incomplete because of present suffering but leading to final glory. Our first reading, a profoundly moving story, is the common treasure of three great religious traditions, each reverencing Abraham as father: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Here Abraham appears as our common model. "Tested" by God, Abraham responded with prompt obedience: "Ready!" Never has God demanded more of a faithful servant. Narrative emphasis through repetition painfully underscores the old man's unique comfort and joy, now reduced to his extremist pain: "Take your son, your beloved one, Isaac, whom you hold so dear." "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!" Instead of recoiling in paralyzed horror, begging for a change of heart or stalling for time, Abraham responded at once. He diligently prepared for an act which, if carried out, would rank among the most appalling in any religious culture. The story's opening words however reassure us that God wasn't serious in demanding Isaac's death; it's only a test. Instead of an imperious command, the Hebrew text softens the verb's force: "Take, please/I beg you, your son." And in the nick of time God held back the father's death-dealing blow with impassioned cry repeated in urgency. "Abraham! Abraham!" The Creator and Redeemer loves even more than a doting parent. Speaking through a heavenly messenger, God solemnly reassured Abraham, irrevocably binding himself under oath. Earlier, a promise to bless Abraham with innumerable descendants through Isaac was sheer grace independent of human merit. Now it depends on obedience carried out in spite of extreme human repugnance. In the concluding divine address, repetition emphasized the connection between human conduct and God's gifts, however undeserved. "Because you acted as you did ... Because you obeyed." Even more important, the Lenten theme surfaces from the context provided by today's other readings. Later Jewish reflection centered on Isaac rather than Abraham as the story's real "hero." Wordless, unresisting surrender of his own life, allowing his body to be bound and placed upon the sacrificial altar, made Isaac a type or foreshadowing of the Passover (Paschal) Lamb, with atoning power to redeem Israel. Early Christians followed this line of exegesis, making Isaac a Christ figure. Through freely accepted death, a just man brings forgiveness and reconciliation to the whole world. Abraham in turn becomes a type or symbolic representation of God who willingly, although at great price, delivered up his only Son. So great is the Father's love for us!

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