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[26] Second Sunday of Lent

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Readings:  Gen. 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 / Ps. 116 / Romans 8:31b-34 / Mk. 9:2-10

An important traditional demarcation of the ancient Jews from their pagan neighbors was the repugnance they felt toward human sacrifice.  Rather, they offered the grains of the field or animals like goats, sheep, bulls and birds.  However, more recent archeological evidence shows that the early Jews did at one time offer the oblation of human beings.  The remnant texts that point to such behavior are the testing of Abraham and the story of Jephthah’s daughter. The story of Jephthah’s daughter can be found in Judges 11:29-40.  Like our passage today, it is deeply disturbing.  The Hebrew general pledges that the first who steps out the door of his home, he will sacrifice. He immediately laments his pledge because out steps his young daughter. She requests a short time to mourn her virginity and then we are told he did as he promised. Unlike the story of Abraham and Isaac, it appears that God does not stay his hand. The young girl had courage and her father kept his promise to God; but as Christians, we are aware that some promises should not be made. The child mourns that she will never know the joys of being a wife and mother. It is a poignant and terrible story.

Just as the story of Abraham and Isaac prefigures God’s surrender of his Son; the story of Jephthah’s daughter is connected to the Virgin Mary.  Mary gives herself to perpetual virginity and undergoes a vicarious martyrdom in witnessing the passion and death of her Son. Jephthah was a great Jewish general. He was successful against tremendous odds. He was victorious not because of his oath, but in spite of it. As St. John Chrysostom would tell us, his repugnant act would move the Jews to renounce all such blood-oaths from that time forward. Regarded as a testing of Abraham’s faith, a messenger from heaven intervenes and God directly prohibits the sacrifice of Isaac.  This would plainly show that God does not delight in such sacrifices.

Abraham certainly did not comprehend the command to sacrifice Isaac.  It seemed to violate providence, itself.  The patriarch was elderly and his son was the child of promise from which he was supposed to generate many descendants.  He did not understand but he remained faithful.  It is that element and not the shocking act that we should fully reflect upon.  God stays the hand of Abraham but he would not spare his own Son, the child promised from the dawn of creation.  Our heavenly Father did not directly will that his Son should be tortured and murdered; but he did desire faithfulness.  Jesus is faithful to his mission unto the Cross.  Abraham substitutes the oblation of a ram.  When God spared us (signified by Isaac), Jesus substitutes himself for us as the divine Lamb of God.  The sacrifice is no longer a ram caught in the briars but a Savior crowned with thorns.

The sacrifice of human beings by the pagans would be regarded by the early Christian community as a feeding the bloodlust of demons. We might think that we are morally better and enlightened, but over a million unborn children are aborted in the United States annually.  Many ministers regard this as a return of the demonic sacrifices of old.  Are we feeding demons the blood of our children?

The responsorial speaks to our conviction as believers during the season of Lent: “O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the son of your handmaid; you have loosed my bonds. To you will I offer sacrifice of thanksgiving, and I will call upon the name of the LORD.” Catholics readily make the connection between Christ as the suffering servant and Mary who declares herself as “the handmaid of the Lord.”  Jesus offers his life that we might be released from the bonds of Satan.  Our Lord will pay the price of his life to set us free.  Mother and Son will meet on Calvary.  The sacrifice of Jesus will do what all prior oblations failed to do— make true and lasting atonement for sin.

The second reading reiterates today’s theme:  “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”  Paul is speaking about the gift of hope that comes with faith.  The victory over sin and death has already been won.

The Gospel reading gives us the scene of the Transfiguration.  Our Lord is dressed in dazzling white and beside him stands Elijah and Moses.  This signifies that Jesus is the fulfillment of the LAW and the PROPHETS.  The transformation in Jesus might be interpreted as a sign of things to come, notably the resurrection.  Lest it should be misunderstood, Jesus tells his three apostles not to speak about what they have seen until “the Son of Man had risen from the dead.”  We are told that they questioned what was meant by “rising from the dead.”  The apostles really could not get their heads around our Lord’s prophesies about his passion and death.

There is an important but sometimes overlooked element to the reading that we today should take to heart.  The heavenly Father’s voice beckons from the cloud, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.”  Jesus is the ultimate term for salvation.  It is his sacrifice that is saving.  Given that he buys us back with his own life, we belong to him.  If that be the case, then it must be realized with faith and an abiding obedience.

  • What sacrifices have you made in your life to realize your discipleship?
  • Do you appreciate that every Mass is a re-presentation of the oblation of Calvary?
  • Have you placed limits on your faith and what you would do in response to God’s calling?
  • How have you died for Christ and others, brushing aside selfishness?
  • Do you listen and obey God’s Son or have you substituted other authorities?
  • Do you put a premium upon human life, both in and out of the womb?
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