Readings: Genesis 22:1-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8:31b-34; Mark 9:2-10
In what do I believe? Or in whom? I am an American, after all. I believe in self-reliance, independence, going for the “dream” — whatever dream it is that I follow. So much in our culture tells me to believe in myself.
Abraham too has a dream. It is of a future family, prosperous and long-lived. God had told him it would be, and it all depends on Isaac, for Abraham the very personification of God’s promise. We mortals often have difficulty discerning what it is that God is willing for us, but Abraham seems to have no such problem. He knows God’s promise and now he knows that God wants the sacrifice of his beloved son – and with him all that Abraham has dreamed and longed for. In that terse Biblical telling of the story in which the narrator already knows the outcome, all of Abraham’s anguish is omitted. The theme of this story is faith. Trusting in God, Abraham acts accordingly. He believes in God, who must have a different future in mind.
Think of that walk through the wilderness with Isaac. How innocent and oblivious the youth! How the father even now delights in the son’s presence and the gift he has been to Sarah and himself. How his heart grows heavy as they approach the mountain of sacrifice. How he struggles to maintain his trust in God.
Another Father walked with his beloved Son. Though he spared Abraham the sacrifice of his son, God “did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all.” This Son knows where he is heading and does not flinch. Also a true son of Abraham, Jesus walks purposefully and with deep integrity, teaching with hope that these dense disciples of his will also learn to trust the Father. He heals the people so that they can experience his and the Father’s immense care for them. He takes each step in profound awareness of the Father’s presence and with growing understanding that his actions will bring about his death. Yet he will not cease what he knows is his mission.
Jesus’s great concern is not for himself but that the disciples’ faith will not be able to withstand the coming sacrifice. He permits the leaders in the group to share his moment of transfiguration, to hear God’s affirmation and the admonition to listen. In joy Peter babbles, “Lord, it is good for us to be here.” But Peter knows only a part of where they are on the journey. Jesus is hoping to fortify him for the time when the dreams they hold for the kingdom will be shattered. In that terrible period they will not yet see, but will need to trust beyond all human understanding that God is working his dream for Israel and all humankind.
In what do I believe in the terrible times? In what do I believe in just ordinary times when I am under the illusion that I can make it on my own? I choose to believe the Father is walking with me, sometimes carrying me, but always leading and inviting me into his dream for me and us. The trick is to live always in that awareness so that I will remember and trust him when I am in a wilderness, when that which I have taken for granted is no more, when it is hard to feel it is “good to be here.”
Help me, Lord, to walk this Lent with you wherever you lead.
–Sr. Margaret M. O’Brien, SC
Sr. Margaret serves in Congregational leadership as Assistant to the President and Treasurer. She is a former educator, administrator and VP for mission services in an SC-sponsored health system.
Image: Christ leading Peter, James, & John to the High Mountain, G.D. Tiepolo, c. 1727 – c. 1804
The story of Abraham and Isaac is so profound. And each time after reading or hearing it, I utter the words of the Woman in the Gospel, “I believe, Lord, help my unbelief”.