Genesis 22: 1-2, 9-13, 15-18
Psalm 116: 10, 15-19
Romans 8: 31-34
Mark 9: 2-10
The gospel passage of the transfiguration illustrates the Christian encounter with God. In the gospel, Jesus led three of His apostles—Peter, James, and John up to the high mountain where He is transfigured into something illuminating. The Messiah has revealed His true nature to those who were with Him. Right at this moment, it is important to recognize that those who stay with the course of the Lord and let Him lead the way will never be deprived of Light, for the one who leads is Light. At the moment Jesus Christ transfigured, Moses and Elijah appeared before Him, most likely talking to Him about the process it would take for His true nature to be revealed before all. Peter realized that what he was witnessing before his eyes was not ordinary. It was “mystical” in nature. He was so in awe of the encounter that he did not know anything to say besides that the encounter was “wonderful” they should stay where they were for a long time. Any encounter with God through Jesus Christ is always mystical, just like what the gospel passage depicted. Yet, it must be unfair to say so because we live in the not-so-mystical and mundane reality of the world. It would seem so difficult to escape from the ordinary world and jump into the mystical world where an encounter with God is ever constant, and the sense of awe Peter experienced would never be like a fleeting bird. Especially in the season of Lent, where we are called to confront the dessert areas of our soul, the parts of it that are dry, ordinary, and dim. How do we make sense of this gospel passage in light of the season of Lent?
I think one piece of the answer can be traced to the first readings, where we find God testing Abraham. The patriarch of Christianity had been waiting years and years to cradle a son in his arms. The waiting got to the point where he and Sara reached an age where it was practically impossible to conceive a child. Eventually, God did provide them a child in Isaac. After all such “things” have taken place, as the first reading states, however, God tested Abraham by calling him to offer up Isaac in sacrifice. Consider this for a moment, you waited many years just to have son, only to have been called by God to kill him as a sacrificial offering. Imagine how Abraham would’ve initially reacted; he must have been greatly distressed or weary. He would’ve felt really anxious about responding to God. What if I did obey God and kill Isaac, would it take me ages again to have another one? What would happen if I die without having a child? What if I refuse to obey the Lord? How would I be cursed if I keep Isaac? – even more so, there might have been a sense of regret he felt for praying over having a child, if only he were to be tested this way. As a human being, Abraham must have felt one of these things after being told by God to kill his son. Eventually, Abraham obeyed—perhaps reluctantly—to bring up Isaac to the high mountain. He set up a sacrificial altar, set Isaac to sleep, and took a knife to slay his son. However, God suddenly spoke to Abraham from above, admitting that He was just testing his faith and since he showed obedience to the Lord, the Lord said He did not need to continue the sacrifice. At this point, something subtle yet obvious was taking place. There was an encounter at the beginning of the passage narrative. There was an encounter as a result of staying in the course of the Lord. After hearing the response of the Lord, Abraham must have felt ecstatic for experiencing the merits of obedience. The feeling may be the same Peter, James, and John felt when they witnessed the transfiguration of the Lord. Two different settings, yet same encounter. One can also argue that the two encounters are connected in a way that the encounter of Abraham was revealed the means and the encounter of the three disciples, the end of the core of the Christian faith.
The readings convey that encounters with the Lord are nothing short of majestic and mystical. However, it is often the case that our daily encounters with Him are wrapped over the mundane reality of life. All of the things that we go through under the four seasons of life contain a mystical encounter with God, often summed up in an “Aha!” moment. In accomplishments, milestones, trials, losses, and uncertainties, we are given the opportunity to have an encounter with Him. Even the dessert areas of our lives, areas we never want to go, contain an opportunity for an encounter. The important thing to realize about the Christian God is that He allowed His Son to go down in our world, just as Abraham took Isaac up in the mountain – there is a bit of reluctance from the One who sent. The moment Jesus took upon a human life, He sanctified everything about it. He sanctified everything that is human—triumphs, social belonging, family, work, friendship, laughter, and even pain, hardships, regrets, and fears. In other words, the very life of Jesus Christ served as the bridge between the ordinary and the mystical. So by that act of life, we would be able to have a constant encounter with Him through our daily lives. Yet, just as how all relationships work, an encounter is a two way street. God offers Himself to us through His Son and we are to acknowledge and receive Him through faith and divine obedience.
And as St. Paul preaches to the Romans in the second reading, what is there to fear if God is with us in all aspects of our lives? As we move along this season of Lent, let us pray for an increase of faith to recognize that God is with us in everything we do and everywhere we go in our shared pilgrim called life.