Beauty in the Cross

February 21, 2018 - 10:33am
Transfiguration
Scripture Reflections for the Second Sunday in Lent

If you have you ever been hiking in the mountains, you’ll know what a false summit is: when you reach a peak that appeared to be the pinnacle of the mountain but see that the true summit is even higher.

False summits can cause hikers to give up, despairing of ever reaching their goal.

This experience happens to us in our own lives, and it happens to Saint Peter in the Gospel today. We can get to the top of a summit and be so excited that we forget that the true summit still lies beyond us—in Heaven. But if we learn to look at the false summits as signs of the peak, we can actually regain strength in those moments because we remember where our life is ultimately headed.

When Jesus brought his disciples to the summit and revealed his glory to them in the Transfiguration, he was trying to give them a glimpse of what was to come so that they could endure his suffering and Death in Jerusalem. Resting with Jesus on our own false summits can help us to remember the true beauty awaiting us in the Cross.

 

First Reading Reflection

Genesis 22: 1−2, 9a, 10−13, 15−18

 

The Old Testament readings for the Second through the Fifth Sundays of Lent express the progression of the covenantal history of Israel. At each stage of this history, God planted seeds that would come to fruition in Christ. The early Church, in imitation of  the Apostles, saw what Saint Justin Martyr called “seeds of the Logos” scattered throughout history as God’s way of preparing mankind for the coming of the Savior.

When Christ—the Logos—came, he gathered in the harvest from all the seeds sown throughout salvation history, setting right all the sins of the patriarchs and perfecting their righteous acts. This was the first step in the process of the consummation of all things in Christ. Today, the Church continues the work of Christ both in the liturgy and the lives of Christians until Christ’s work is completed at the end of time.

In Genesis 22 we see the seed of the Father’s offer of his own divine Son for our salvation in Abraham’s offering of Isaac. Despite the intense pain that God’s request must have evoked in him, Abraham knew by faith that God’s will must be identical with his mercy. And his faith was rewarded when God provided another sacrifice: a ram. Later in time God would again provide the sacrifice, this time in the Person of his Divine Son. On that day the seed planted so long ago by Abraham would bear eternal fruit for us all.

 

Second Reading Reflection

Romans 8:31b−34

 

In this passage an answer for “Why the Cross?” appears. A central purpose of Christ’s suffering was to restore our trust. Adam and Eve’s destroyed their original confidence in God.Therest of salvation history may be viewed as a process of resurrecting it; a process that culminates in the Passion of Christ on the Cross. The restoration of trust must include both God’s justice and his mercy. The justice element is necessary for we cannot trust someone unless we believe what they say. God said, “You will surely die,” and the sufferings of mankind are a just consequence for the rebellion of our first parents.

However, full trust requires more than knowing someone is truthful. An enemy may say, “I will have revenge.” We trust the words but not the person. Complete confidence includes certainty that another person has compassion for us. We only trust those whom we believe have our best interests at heart.

It is this that God wants to teach us through Christ’s sacrifice. He wants us to see him as our healer, giving him the confidence we give our physicians; as our beloved, with the confidence we give to a spouse; and as our father, with the confidence of little children. He wants all this, and more, so that we may be in no doubt of his love. Hence the Cross, where the judge takes on the punishment of the condemned. The Father’s obedient son offers his life for the rebellious ones. It is the ultimate gesture of justice and mercy.

For Saint Paul’s hearers, and for us, who have to contend with our own sins and external pressures against our belief, the Cross becomes the beautiful symbol of hope. The worst of punishments becomes the source of eternal life.

 

Gospel Reflection

Mark 9:2−10

 

The feature of Saint Mark’s account of Jesus’s ministry is “the messianic secret,” so called because Jesus commands people not to disclose his identity to others. In this passage, however, Jesus makes no secret of his divinity. Why is Jesus concerned about revealing his identity and mission to some, yet provides an epiphany of his Divine Personhood to Saints Peter, James, and John on Mount Tabor?

The answer is likely that Jesus, knowing that the prediction of his Passion could shake the faith of his followers, gives them a glimpse of what will lie on the other side. However, another aspect of Mark’s account of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor is that it parallels the events on Mount Sinai in Exodus 24. The entire scene of the Transfiguration is reminiscent of the Theophany (appearance of God), when Moses received the Law on Mount Sinai. Jesus took three disciples up Mount Tabor, just as Moses took three priests of the Old Law onto Mount Sinai. Moses led them up the mountain where the glory cloud of the Lord came down for six days with Moses being addressed on the seventh day; Mark says the Transfiguration occurred “after six days” (RSV).

Because it is the prophets Moses and Elijah who appear with Jesus on the mountain, many of the Church Fathers suggest that Moses represents the Old Law, and Elijah the prophets. The appearance of Moses and Elijah is symbolic of the witness that the Law and the prophets give to Christ.

 

Discussion

Watch the short Opening the Word video (if you need access to FORMED, go here first: StMichael.FORMED.org)

Ponder the attitudes of Abraham, Isaac, and Jesus towards suffering. Now think of a particular suffering in your life right now. Try to imagine it as a cross given to you to carry alongside Jesus. How does this change your view of that suffering?

It can be very easy to resist or even resent our sufferings as crosses given to us that we can unite with Jesus’s Cross. How does the example of these three men help you to see how to become a more willing to accept  suffering?  What practica things could you do in your life to embrace your sufferings?

How can the most ugly act of mankind—the Cross—be beautiful? Think of your own life, particularly the sufferings. What beauty can you see there? Will  this  beauty  save the world?

Are you willing to suffer for the Lord for love of him? What concrete things can you do in your life this week to grow in this willingness?

 

Reflection published with permission by Opening the Word from Augustine Institue

 

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