sabato 24 febbraio 2018

«Hic est Filius meus dilectus; audite illum»

In today’s liturgy both the first reading and the gospel are set on a mountain. Mountain is a high secluded place, where it is easier for man to meet God. 

Abraham climbs the mountain to sacrifice his son to God. It was a trial, by which God wanted to test Abraham’s faith. We can imagine the anguish experienced by Abraham at that request, not only because God was asking him to kill his son, but also because, in doing so, God was practically retracting all his promises. He had promised him that he would become a great nation, his descendants would be like the stars of the sky, even though he was old by then and his wife barren; after a long time he had had a son, who seemed to confirm the promise; and now he asks him to offer as a holocaust that son, his only one. There was no logic in God’s behavior! But we do not find anything of Abraham’s reasoning and feelings in the Bible. He just does what God asks of him, without arguing. He trusts God; he fears him, and obeys. His faith is rewarded by God, who confirms his promise, “I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.”

Abraham made a real sacrifice, even though he did not slaughter his son. The essence of a sacrifice does not lie in the immolation of the victim, but in its offering to God. And Abraham did not withhold from God his son. The old Catholic version of the Bible (Douay-Rheims) translated more literally this verse, “Now I know that thou fearest God, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for my sake.” We find the same verb in the second reading, in this case referred to God, “He ... did not spare his Son but handed him over for us all.” The sacrifice of Isaac is a foreshadowing of the sacrifice of Christ. What Abraham did, not sparing his son Isaac, is what God does, not sparing his Son Jesus Christ for our salvation.

In the gospel we move to another mountain, where Jesus shows his glory to his disciples. The event takes place six days after Peter’s profession of faith and the first prediction of the passion. If you remember, the disciples did not react well to this prediction. By his transfiguration, Jesus discloses his divine glory, thus confirming Peter’s confession, and, at the same time, he tries to help his disciples to understand and accept the prospect of passion, by showing them the glory of the following resurrection. The transfiguration is a foretaste of the resurrection; the final end will not be death, but glory; however, in order to reach the glory of the resurrection, there is need of passing through suffering and death. 

At the transfiguration there are several witnesses. First of all, we find two human witnesses—Moses and Elijah. Both of them had seen the glory of God on Mount Sinai; they represent the whole Old Testament—the Law and the Prophets—and now they testify that the Law and the Prophets are expiring and finding their fulfillment in Christ. But, besides them, there are two divine witnesses, the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Father makes his voice heard, “This is my beloved Son” (Hic est Filius meus dilectus). We find here the same adjective as in the first reading: Isaac was Abraham’s “beloved son;” Jesus id God’s “beloved Son.” We had heard a similar statement at the baptism; but in that case it was addressed to Jesus, “You are my beloved Son.” Now the Father’s voice is addressed to the disciples. That is why now God adds, “Listen to him” (Audite illum). Now is not time to look at Jesus; now is time to listen to him, to accept his teachings and execute them. There is also the Holy Spirit present at the transfiguration, like at the baptism. There, he appeared like a dove; here, he makes himself present through the cloud. The whole Trinity moves to tell us that Jesus is the Son of God and to invite us to listen to him. We’d better take it into account, especially during this Lent.