Reflection on the Second Sunday of Lent
When I was looking for a way to connect our readings for today to events in today’s world, I thought about the movie, “The Poseidon Adventure,” which came out in 1972. It was the story of a ship which capsized in a tidal wave. The people trapped in the hull of the ship had a limited time to figure out how to escape death. It was a known fact that there was a hatch on the bottom of the ship, which was now the top of the ship, which could be opened if it could be reached before the trapped oxygen was depleted. It was not known for certain who really had accurate information about how to reach it. Some knew, some thought they knew, and some pretended to know. The story was about trying to figure out who really knew and who to follow. Those who chose the right leader, stayed together and kept their focus on the goal made it out alive. Many did not.
Our world today and the capsized ship have much in common. We have chaos and confusion and are being given directives by those who are sure they know what we should do, those who think they know and those who pretend to know. There does seem to be general agreement about one thing by most people: Business as usual will probably no longer work, and there is a need to make some changes.
In our first reading today, Abraham stands ready to do what he thinks God wants him to do — sacrifice his son Isaac. Business as usual. Neither his willingness to do this nor his actions were startling at the time. The gods humans have worshipped have always demanded human sacrifice down through the ages. A little research uncovered 25 cultures that regularly made use of this ritual in their religious practices. The practice continues in our present time in more subtle ways: ethnic cleansing, national security, power struggles, capital punishment, racial prejudice, immigration laws, racial inequality, economic inequality, inequality of access to medical care, etc., etc., all exacting their toll of people who cannot be allowed to live or who must die because they don’t belong or they just don’t fit into the system.
On this particular occasion that we are reading about today, something different happens. Abraham is told by God to stop it. The God of Abraham intervenes and offers a new victim — a new sacrifice — a “Divine Ingredient.” Jesus will become the “Cosmic-Universal” Christ who will transform human history. Here is your way out of the madness. You will no longer be restricted by your limited economic and political perspectives of exclusion, scarcity and control. You will no longer be trapped in your mind, focused on solving the problems of the present and the future by using the failed methods of the past while you neglect to address the crushing problems of the people standing before you. This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him. Live by His teaching, and do what He did in the manner in which He did it. What happened to Him will happen to you and in the ever deepening and widening mystery of death giving way to life which is the Paschal Mystery; there will be change and there will be transformation.
We’ve been working at this for centuries. Are we getting anywhere? Are we making any progress in this assignment of listening to God’s beloved son? In some ways it seems as though things are getting worse, not better. No doubt the times are changing, and there is transformation. Some of those who believe they know what we should do want to take us back to darker times. They seem stronger than ever and even more radical in the means they are willing to use to bring about the change they believe is needed.
Another group is there as well. This group is also larger, stronger and more determined. They have been tempered by the pain of the pandemic, murdered Black people and those who suffer from desperate economic struggle and injustice. Their numbers grow also when the pain of their desperate plight becomes a lump in the throat of those who are watching — too hot to endure, too heavy to carry and too painful to ignore — and the swallowing of this lump moves the perception of what they are seeing from the head to the heart. At this point, there is a spiritual awakening to a new level of conscious awareness that we are all brothers and sisters, and this tortured earth is our home. With this new awareness they stand with Martin Luther King and all of the others who have been to the mountain and seen the Promised Land. They know it is good to be there, and they know they can never go back. hey are ready to work for justice and act for peace as the only logical way forward. They have been transfigured and transformed.
In our little book of Lenten Reflections, Joan Chittister reminds us that we are called to be in that crowd — to be prophets. In her words, she says, “The prophet in this day — facing a world where rugged individualism reigns — must do more than simply serve. They must lead this world beyond its present divisions of race and gender, of national identity and economic class. … The prophetic tradition has been handed on to each of us to reclaim … so that no one’s needs or pain is overlooked on the way.”
And so, that day on the mountain, the disciples were called by God and they understood as best they could. Transfiguration calls us to a new life, not an old one. This is my beloved son. Listen to him.