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Lent 2 (B)
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Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

1. Genesis 22, 1-2, 9, 10-13 and 15-18
  • God put Abraham to the test.  On one level I think to myself: that story again, which we also hear at the Easter Vigil.  But I dig in, reading carefully until I am listening with my inner ear, in prayer, to every word.
  • Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love, and offer him up as a holocaust.  Yes, it says in Genesis that God said that.  Yes, I already know that God will stop him and reward him for … what?  For putting love of God above love of family and children?  Either he worships a cruel bloodthirsty god like Moloch, or he has much to learn about the one God.  I will interpret the voice of God to Abraham here like a suggestion in a dream, like the God of Job who is willing to push people to their breaking point.
  • Father and son walk ahead, up to a height that I will point out to you.  I hear the basic details and no more: he built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.  Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.  How can I read with detachment?  The future of a people and perhaps the very revelation of the one God are at risk!  Let me practice a more tragic voice here.
  • And afterwards?  You did not withhold from me your own beloved son.  These words find echoes in both of the readings that follow.  Shall I say them like the cruel god Moloch?  I have often heard them read that way.  Or like the jealous God of Israel who pushes his faithful ones hard indeed?  Sometimes I hear this.  What about a voice like the God of Moses who repented of a threat to destroy the people?  Or like an incredulous parent or coach whose charges have taken her at her word: Oh, I know now!  Your own beloved son!?  I will work on that.
  • Last of all comes the renewal of the covenant.  Because you acted as you did –Abraham has made a lasting impression on God because he acted above and beyond the call.  Maybe an Almighty God, the God of many theologians and faithful, would know all along.  My God, the God revealed to Abraham and to Jesus, is constantly distressed and elated by the responses of created men and women.  I will bless you abundantly.  This is not your garden variety blessing, and so I must make it sound monumental: as countless as the stars of the sky.
  • Climax: The true climax, “God will provide,” has been excised in our lectionary.  I would concentrate on the angel’s double cry of Abraham!  Abraham!, sounding the first like a sharp thunderclap and the second like an urgent pleading.   I would even pronounce the name differently from the way I pronounced it at the beginning of the reading, to indicate that the patriarch has been called to a new understanding of himself and his God.
  • Message for our assembly: In your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing.  Let us give deepest thanks for the witness of the people Israel that has reached and enriched us all.
  • I will challenge myself: to find the right feelings to confirm my reading of this and other central themes of our salvation.

2. Romans 8, 31-34

  • Now I have just finished listening to the foundation story of Abraham and Isaac, and so have my listeners.  The apostle, in this passage, is clearly interpreting what happened to Christ in terms of that story.  God did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all. 
  • The reading is short and every word counts.  Some phrases have been translated literally and need to be spoken with care, such as: how will he not also give us everything else – along with him?
  • The language reminds me of a courtroom.  Who will bring a charge against God’s chosen ones?  Let me invoke that same stately demeanor as I read.
  • In the passage there are three pairs of questions and answers.  The punctuation that was preferred for the lectionary confounds the pattern that the apostle presented with total clarity.  Let me apply my knowledge of English syntax and the gospel we have inherited.  (1) Who can be against us?  Because God has given us everything.  (2) Who will bring a charge?  Because God acquits us.  (3) Who condemns?  Because Christ Jesus intercedes for us.
  • The passage ends with a recounting of the saving work of Jesus, and I will let my own Easter joy build in the telling of it, starting from the past tense died and concluding with the eternal present tense intercedes.  Easter joy?  Yes, we pass through our Lents in a serious vein, but we never forget the triumph of the Spirit.
  • Climax: In the very first words.  If God is for us, who can be against us?  The apostle is stating a thesis that he will confirm with appeals to the Lord’s resurrection.  I need to have the same conviction in my voice.
  • The message for our assembly: The apostle challenges the church of Rome to name anyone or anything that can oppose them.  Can we?
  • I will challenge myself: To invoke the memory of the prophet Daniel, and the attorneys Clarence Darrow and Johnnie Cochran, as I use my own oratorical skills to state my case and present the confirming evidence.

 

Gospel. Mark 9, 2-10

  • I hear the initial version of the Transfiguration event, and so I expect a version that is closer to the lived experience of the apostles.  Let me listen carefully.
  • It begins with Jesus, who led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.   A deeper, wondrous dimension is evident in this remote place, as it was on Sinai (remember Elijah along with Moses).  He was transfigured before them. 
  • The apostles hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.  Again like Israel at the foot of Sinai.  I can bring out some of that terror. 
  • The final verses are concerned with the Messianic secret again: not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.  And indeed they kept it to themselves, questioning what it meant.
  • Climax: The divine witness.  This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.  And they did.  Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus.
  • Message for our assembly: Let us listen more attentively during this season.
  • I will challenge myself: To speak with a voice proper for mysteries, one of belief in the impossible, one of hope in him who conquers all, and one of unfading love.

Word to Eucharist: "No one but Jesus"?  How single-minded are we?  How does our posture reflect this?

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