“I know now how devoted you are to God, since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.” That is the phrase that strikes me this Sunday, that and that God so loved us that He sent his only Son. While God spares Abrahams son from the sacrifice on the altar, Jesus will soon be sacrificed on the cross. Abrahams willingness to sacrifice is son also is something that echoes throughout Jesus gospel, it is that willingness to die unto oneself to obtain eternal life. By Abrahams willingness to sacrifice his inheritance, his heirs , his inheritance is to become as numerous as the stars. So much of that Old Testament account is proclaimed in Jesus gospel. It contains those familiar contradictions of death and life, surrender and victory, loss and gain. In the light of Christ that sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham makes sense.
To tie in that first reading with the second readings account of the transfiguration though takes some effort. The uniting theme at first is when God appears on the mountain of the transfiguration and says “this is my beloved Son.” That statement is an epiphany to those disciples, and in that epiphany I also can see the epiphany of Abraham. That epiphany is that he does not need to sacrifice his son to prove his devotion to God. That epiphany, of not having to sacrifice a human life, is one that has so much relevance in today’s society. Again thoughts turn to the terror and slaughter taking place not to far from both these biblical events. It is the terror reigning where people once again kill in the name of God. They too should listen when God tells them to put down their knife.
One of the questions many people ask regarding the Transfiguration is why those three closest disciples were offered that glimpse of Christ’s divine glory. A reason often given is that they needed that divine vision to endure the horrors of the cross.That agony they were to witness required that divine vision of the Transfiguration. They needed to see the beauty of God’s kingdom to nourish them through the horrors of mankind that they were about to witness.As I think of those disciples on that mountaintop and the vision that they witnessed, I also think of how important it is today for people to see the beauty of God and all that God has created for the same reason those disciples needed to witness the transfiguration. As that moment helped them endure and understand the Passion of Christ in the weeks to come, we also need that vision of Gods beauty to carry us through the ugliness of this world.The ugliness of that world two thousand plus years ago still exists today. The horror, and the terror, and torture and disregard for human life that possessed much of ancient society still makes itself known today. It makes itself known through acts of terrorism and murder and torture; but the ugliness is not always through the violence of war.
Even in orderly law abiding societies a culture far removed from that vision the Apostles witnessed can flourish. It can be any instance where a person is degraded, or exploited, or life is not valued. That ugliness can show itself through the neglect of the poor, the elderly, or through the exploitation of youth. It is that same culture of death where abortion thrives, or euthanasia and assisted suicides takes hold; where vulnerable people are manipulated for mere financial considerations, where a dollar valued more than a life. To carry us through the ugliness of even an ordered society we too need to witness that vision of Gods beauty so that we don’t become complacent with the visions of the blind and impaired. We need that beauty of God to recognize much of the ugliness of our own making. Important also in witnessing that beauty is placing an effort in finding it, to reach the top of a mountain one must do some climbing. It takes effort to seek out that beauty, to open ones eyes, and to quietly listen. Abraham after all did hear the command to offer his son as a holocaust, and he also heard the command to stop. He did not close his ears. The Apostles witnessed both the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion, and ultimately the Resurrection. They did not close their eyes, their ears, or their hearts.