Twelve days having passed since we entered the Lenten Season, it is now a good time to review how our living faith and perseverance is leading us towards our eternal glory. Today's readings from the Holy Scriptures serve that specific purpose in our lives.
The First Reading from the Book of Genesis tells us that God tested Abraham. [Gen. 22:1] In other words, God tested his living faith. God wanted to see just how faithful Abraham would be in obedience and servitude.
In this particular Reading that speaks of Abraham and Isaac as father and son, we see a lot of images of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. When God called upon Abraham, he answered, "Here I am." The two words, "I am," echo the identity of both, God the Father and Jesus Christ. These two Words, prophetic in nature, implied the arrival of Jesus in the world as the promised Messiah.
After calling Abraham, God the Father commanded him to take his son Isaac whom he loved and to go to the land of Moriah to offer him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that will be shown to him.
As Genesis 22:3-8 tells us, Abraham obeyed God. Early in the morning, he set out towards the mountain. Genesis 22:6 tells us that "Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on his son Isaac." This passage echoes Jesus carrying the wooden cross to Calvary. It echoes how God the Father put the weight of the sins of the world upon His Son Jesus Christ whom He loved very much."
When Abraham came to the place that God had shown him, he built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.
The action of Abraham echoes perfect obedience to God. It echoes that living faith without actions (works) is dead. [Jas. 2:26] True faith is living faith that shines in actions.
When we heard that Isaac was bound and laid on top of the wood, we were reminded of Jesus who was bound and laid on the cross to be nailed in our place so we may receive our salvation and eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. [Gen. 22:10] The moment had arrived! What went through the mind of Abraham at that moment? It is obvious that the fear of God must have been great in Abraham. He had chosen to sacrifice his son versus opposing God's command. Abraham must have known that anything was possible to God. If it was the Divine Will of God, He would raise Isaac from the dead. And what went through the mind of his son? His obedience to God and to his father must have been great to allow himself to be slaughtered as a lamb at the burnt offering ceremony.
Just when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, the angel of the Lord called him from heaven and told him not to lay his hand on the boy or do anything to him. [Gen. 22:11-2] The faith of Abraham had been tested and God knew by his actions that he had a sincere heart. Abraham obeyed God to the end.
Something of interest that many of you may not have noticed or heard before. It is the reference to the angel of the Lord. In the Old Testament, there are frequent references to the angel of the Lord. [Gen. 16:7-13; Exo. 3:2, 32:22-32; Num. 22:22-8; Judges 2:1; Zech. 12:8, etc...] In those passages, the angel of the Lord is identified as Yahweh Himself.
Knowing that God the Father is formless, being the first mover among the Three Divine Presences of the Holy Trinity, and believing in the teachings of the Holy Catholic Church that the first mover cannot be moved, these passages of the Old Testament reveal to us that the angel of the Lord was the Second Divine Presence of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Himself. These passages tell us that before the incarnation of the Lord Jesus, the eternal Word of God, Jesus manifested Himself visibly throughout the early history of the world in an angelic form.
After the angel of the Lord had stopped Abraham from sacrificing his son, Abraham saw a ram caught in the thicket by its horn. He took the animal and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son. [Gen. 22:13]
Later on, God called Abraham a second time. This time, God made a promise to Abraham, that because he did not withhold his son, he would be blessed. His offsprings would become as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.
Today, we can perceive what was meant by that promise of God. We know that Abraham was to become the spiritual father of mankind. [Rom. 4:17] He was the first of those to be saved by their living faith in God, first through the angel of God in the Old Testament and then through Jesus Christ in the New Testament.
The Lord concluded by saying that through the offspring of Abraham, all the nations of the earth shall gain blessings for themselves. [Gen. 22:18] Those word teach us that every nation of the world is privileged to have as some of its citizens the children of God who have received the Sacrament of Baptism through faith in Jesus Christ. Through the offspring of Abraham, blessings have been bestowed upon all the nations. Through the offspring of Abraham, the nations have learned the ways of God, the Christian faith, true righteousness, equal justice, human rights, all what is holy and pure, and pleasing to the Lord God.
Moving along to the Second Reading from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, we perceive that perseverance moves alongside living faith. In the early days of the Church, there was much persecution and many of the converts feared losing their lives.
Addressing this issue, St. Paul told them, "If God is for us, who is against us? [Rom. 8:31] It is clear that God is on the side of the Christians. As such, there is nothing to fear. If God made the ultimate sacrifice of His only beloved Son, will He not alongside with Jesus provide the Christians with all their needs? Certainly He will!
Then, St. Paul asked two more questions. "Who will bring any charges against God's elect? Is it God who justifies? [Rom. 8:33] This affirms to us that the justification and salvation of the Christian is not a question of arbitration. In the days of Job, Satan travelled back and forth between Heaven and earth, seeking God's permission to shipwreck whoever would not persevere in the living God. [Job 1:6-12, 2:1-8] But those days are now over! Satan, the accuser of men, he who accused them day and night before our God, has been thrown down from Heaven. [Rev. 12:7-10] He can no longer bring charges against the children of God for Jesus is now our Mediator before God the Father. Jesus made the perfect sacrifice for our sins. For those who persevere in their living faith, Jesus atoned as the Lamb of God to secure their righteousness before the Heavenly Father.
Since we have Jesus on our side, who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will it be hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, none of these things will separate us! For the love of Christ is eternal. While we may temporarily suffer in these physical bodies, our living hope in Christ is in the life to come as spiritual beings. Can the worldly ways that will come to an end separate us from our spiritual lives? No!
If we do suffer hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness or even death as Christian who live their faith in Christ, let us offer it to God. For in the end, a Heavenly reward awaits all those who persevere in their living faith. Hardship, persecution and death makes us conquerors through Jesus who loves us. Through Him we have assurance of our eternal life and salvation, having overcome the worldly ways of the flesh, of self-centredness, wealth, fame, etc...
Today's Reading from the Gospel of Mark gives us a glimpse at what awaits those who persevere in their living faith. When Jesus took Peter, James and John up a high mountain, they witnessed the transfiguration of Jesus. His clothes became dazzling white such as no one on earth could bleach them.
White clothing is an image of glory. This is supported by numerous biblical passages. [Rev. 3:3-5, 3:18, 4:4, 6:11, 7:9, 12]
The presence of Elijah and Moses on the mountain is symbolic of the fulfillment of the prophets (through Elijah) and the Law (through Moses) that is found in the Old Testament. Their living presence is proof that God's children of the Old Testament who persevered in their living faith have inherited the Kingdom of God.
During that Reading, we heard when Peter offered to make three tents, one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Peter wanted to eternalize his joy by building three tents as was done in the Feast of Tabernacles. [Hos. 12:9]
With everything that was happening, Peter was terrified. He was terrified in the sense that he was lost for words at the mystery of Christ. His fear was his great unworthiness of being in the presence of God incarnated.
To add to this overwhelming experience, a cloud overshadowed them and God the Father spoke, "This is my Son, the Beloved, listen to him!" The cloud is symbolic of the presence of Yahweh in the Old Testament. [Ex. 16:10, 19:9 24:15-6; 32:9] The words, "my beloved son" is a repetition of the words of God that were spoken at the Baptism of Jesus. [Mt. 3:17; Mk. 1:11] The words, "listen to Him" is a command to heed to Jesus or face the consequences for rejecting the Word of God.
Overcome by the Divine presence of God, the disciples fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. [Mt. 17:6-8] Jesus went to them, touched them, told them to get up and not to be afraid. When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus.
As they came down the mountain, Jesus ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. Coming down the mountain echoes a new Covenant. When Moses received the Covenant of the Law, he also descended the mountain while carrying the two tablets of the Covenant. [Ex. 32:15, 34:29] Now the new and everlasting Covenant of Grace was about to begin.
Jesus commanding the disciples to tell no one echoes when Daniel received a vision and was commanded to keep the words secret until the time of the end. [Dan. 12:4, 9] Today's Gospel ends by telling us that the disciples kept the matter to themselves, this echoing how Daniel also kept the vision of things to come secret to himself. [Dan. 7:28]
As was just explained to you, living faith and perseverance leads us to eternal glory. Your presence here today is a sign of your living faith. Your Christian behaviour in the world is a sign of your perseverance in your faith. Today, we are gathered here together so we can strengthen one another to persevere in our living faith in the hope of the eternal glory that awaits us at the end of this life.
Continuing with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us ask the Lord Jesus to strengthen and preserve our living faith through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. This is especially important to us during the Lenten Season when we are reflecting upon our Christian lives in preparation for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ that will be celebrated on Easter Sunday.