Second Sunday of Lent – Year B

26 February 2024

Appears in: Messages and Homilies

Second Sunday of Lent – Year B


[Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18; Psalm 116; Romans 8:31b-35, 37; Mark 9:2-10]

In the last while, I have become quite reliant upon reminders. Since I cannot always depend on my own memory, I’m now using rather often little tricks to help me remember what I have to do. If I want to be sure to call someone, I will put a post-it-note on my desk. If there is something I need to take to the office, I will place it near the door so that I have to practically trip over it in order not to forget. Something to do with aging, perhaps.

Regardless of our respective ages or powers of memory, there is one reminder needed by us all. I am speaking here of the need to remember the love of God. We can be tempted to forget it, especially in moments of great difficulty or suffering. That reminder comes to us not in a post-it-note but the Word of God. By means of the biblical texts for this mass, it is placed directly in the various pathways of our thoughts so that we can carry it with us into the many events of our daily lives. So, let’s consider carefully what we have just heard.

When we ponder the first reading from Genesis, it is admittedly difficult to see how this could be a reminder of the love of God. On the surface, it seems God is anything but loving when He tests the faith of Abraham in what appears to be a very cruel fashion by commanding he kill his only beloved son, Isaac. How could a God of love ask that of any father? Both heart and mind recoil at the thought. To grasp what is happening in this episode we need to apply an important principle of biblical interpretation, namely, that everything in the Old Testament is only properly understood in light of the New, that is, in light of what God has done for the world in his Son, Jesus. Looking back on the episode in this way, we see God’s great love come into focus. From the intervention of the angel who stayed Abraham’s hand, it is clear that God had no intention of allowing Abraham to sacrifice his only beloved son. Rather, God was in this way preparing humanity to understand the depth of His love for us all when He would later give over His own only beloved Son for our sake.  We hear Saint Paul put it this way: “[God] who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him give us everything else?” A love greater than this cannot even be imagined.

What we encounter in the Gospel is Jesus preparing in advance a reminder for his disciples of God’s all-powerful love. Jesus knows they will be greatly confused and distressed by his impending crucifixion. He wants to strengthen them for what is to come, so, in his Transfiguration, he reveals his true identity as Son of God incarnate, a wondrous truth confirmed by the voice of the Father. What is more, Jesus has Moses and Elijah appear from heaven with him, thus indicating he is the fulfillment of all God had promised through the Law and prophets concerning a Saviour, and that all Jesus is about to suffer will lead to the glory of the Resurrection to eternal life. Later, after Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to them, the disciples could look back to the Transfiguration and understand it as the abiding reminder, given to them by the Lord himself, of the ever-victorious love of God.

How does this all speak to us? Well, this reminder of God’s astonishing love is itself a call never to forget that love, to trust in it absolutely, and hold on to it resolutely, especially in circumstances of confusion or hardship.

The experience of Abraham is not unknown to us. Similar to him, we can find ourselves deeply perplexed and troubled by what God asks of us, especially when the will of God appears to run counter to logic or moves us in directions other than we had hoped. And like the first disciples, we often have to grapple with the reality of incomprehensible suffering. They witnessed the suffering of their Lord and Master, without understanding in the moment its greater purpose. We look daily upon the great anguish of humanity, most painful to us when endured by people we love, and often fail to understand how it makes any sense.

So, we do need the reminder given in Scripture, and ultimately offered in the very person of Jesus Christ, namely, that God loves us and will never let us go; and that God is with us, turning everything to the good for our sake and the accomplishment of His saving purpose for the whole world. Holding on to this reminder, and trusting fully in it, even when we don’t understand what is happening, is what we mean by faith. Faith is not comprehending everything. Faith is not believing God only when we can see the outcomes. No, faith is that demonstrated by Abraham, who, at God’s command, left behind his past without knowing where he was going, and who was prepared to give up his future in the sacrifice of his son, because he trusted in the wisdom and providence of God. Faith is the full surrender of one’s life into the care of God, sure only of His love, which is all we need to know.

Of course, the greatest reminder of God’s love is given in the Eucharist, the sacrament we celebrate in memory of Jesus. Here is rendered present the sacrifice at Calvary of the Son of God made flesh, offered as the supreme manifestation of the love of both Father and Son for us all. As we receive again this reminder, may the grace of sacramental communion with Jesus bring with it a deepening of our faith, by which we hold fast to the truth of God’s love and surrender our lives, willingly and joyfully, into His hands.

Most Reverend Richard W. Smith

Saint Joseph Basilica

February 25th, 2024