25 Feb 2024 – Lent, 2nd Sunday, Year B

25 Feb 2024 – Lent, 2nd Sunday, Year B

(1) Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18

The “Binding of Isaac” shows Abraham’s complete obedience to God

After these things God tested Abraham. He said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.”

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham 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. Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” He said, “Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt offering instead of his son.

The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies, and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

Responsorial: from Psalm 116

R./: I will walk in the presence of the Lord, in the land of the living

I trusted, even when I said:
‘I am sorely afflicted.’
O precious in the eyes of the Lord
is the death of his faithful. (R./)

Your servant, Lord, your servant am I;
you have loosened my bonds.
A thanksgiving sacrifice I make:
I will call on the Lord’s name. (R./)

My vows to the Lord I will fulfil
before all his people,
in the courts of the house of the Lord,
in your midst, O Jerusalem (R./)

(2) Romans 8:31-34

The Father’s love for us is shown by letting his Son die for our sake

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.

Gospel: Mark 9:2-10

The apostles glimpse Christ’s glory, to sustain them through his imminent passion

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.


What must be cast aside?

“If your eye should cause you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better to enter into life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be thrown into the hell of fire!” Matthew 18:9). This condemnation of anything which may prove a moral stumbling-block for us was deliberately extreme to make it stick in people’s minds, and it does. But “hell fire” is not precisely what Matthew wrote, but rather the “fiery Gehenna.” The Hebrew word Gehenna meant the “Valley of Hinnom,” a gorge just south of the Jerusalem Temple. It was a place under a curse, for it was there that the pagan Canaanites used to sacrifice children to their god Moloch, by throwing them into a fire.

Some breakaway Jews followed that savage custom until the idol of Moloch was finally destroyed in the 7th century B.C. The horror of the place survived, and it became the refuse dump of Jerusalem, a place of continual smoke from burning rubbish. In the public mind it became synonymous with hell, a visible image of what that place must be. But there was no place for child-sacrifice in true worship of God, and devout Jews would claim there never was. They saw the confirmation of this in the actions of Abraham, their father in faith, how God stayed his hand as he was about to sacrifice his son Isaac.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is full of high drama. The demand that Isaac be sacrificed seemed to utterly contradict God’s promise that the boy would pass on Abraham’s line into the distant future. It was a radical trial of faith, and no greater test of obedience could be set. Abraham’s heart was pierced by the boy’s innocent question, “Where is the lamb for the burnt offering? Finding it impossible to tell his son that he was the intended victim, Abraham stammered, “God will provide.” St. John may well have this episode in mind when he wrote, “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son” (3:16).

This story raises several acute questions. Why did God ask Abraham to sacrifice his son? Why did Abraham intend to obey? Indeed why did God allow his own divine Son to be sacrificed? The connection between Isaac and Jesus is obvious. Isaac prefigured Our Lord in that he was to be sacrificed on a hill, and he carried on his shoulder the wood for the intended sacrifice. But there the likeness ends. Isaac was the least notable of the patriarchs, a bridge of transition between Abraham and Jacob. In contrast, Jesus at the Transfiguration was shown to his three Apostles, as a figure of miraculous glory, truly God’s Son and messenger to the world. Despite their enthusiasm, the of the Apostles’ faith would be tested later on, as Abraham’s was. The shining revelation of the divine person of Christ was in sharp contrast to watching him in Gethsemane sweating blood before his Passion. The God who spared the son of Abraham and showered him with blessings, did not spare his own Son, but left him in the hands of his enemies for our redemption.

Unlike Isaac, Jesus was aware of what lay ahead. “The Son of Man must suffer,” he had said. Shortly before the Transfiguration, when he first told the disciples what he was to suffer, Peter prayed that God would not allow such a thing to happen. The Lord’s response was instant and severe, “Get behind me, Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as humans do” (Mk 8:33). In dealing with God we must have faith and trust. On the cellar wall of a bombed-out house in Cologne an unknown fugitive, obviously Jewish, left a testimony of trust that only came to light when the rubble was being cleared away after World War II. It read: “I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when I do not feel it. I believe in God even when he is silent.” That is the faith of Abraham, and is the kind of faith we should seek as well.

Freedom to let go

I came across a sentence in a book I was reading recently which struck me very forcibly: ‘all love relationships flourish only when there is freedom to let go of what is precious, so as to receive it back as a gift’. It is not easy to let go of what is precious. The more precious someone is to us, the harder it is to let go of that person. The more attractive someone is to us, the more we feel inclined to possess that person. Yet, in the effort to possess someone we can easily lose them. At the heart of all loving relationships is the freedom to let go of the other, and in letting go to receive the other back as a gift. Parents know that there comes a time when they have to let go of their sons or daughters, even though they are more precious to them than anything else. They may have to let them go to another country or to the person whom they have chosen as their future spouse. Yet, in letting go of their children, parents invariably discover that they receive them back as a gift. Single people too have to learn the freedom of letting go what is precious so as to receive it back as a gift. In any good and healthy friendship, people need to give each other plenty of space.

In today’s reading Abraham is portrayed as being willing to let go of what was most precious to him, the only son of his old age. In being willing to let his son go to God, he went on to receive him back as a gift. Many people find it a very disturbing story, because it portrays God as asking Abraham to sacrifice his only beloved son as a burnt offering to God. We are rightly shocked by the image of God asking a father to sacrifice his son in this way. Abraham lived about a thousand years before Christ. In the religious culture of that time it was not uncommon for people to sacrifice their children to various gods. The point of the story seems to be that the God of Israel is not like the pagan gods. If Abraham thought that God was asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac like the people who worshipped other gods, he was wrong. God was not asking this of Abraham. Yet, the willingness of Abraham to let go of what was most precious to him if that was what God was asking remained an inspiration to the people of Israel. He had already shown a willingness to let go of his family and his homeland as he set out towards an unknown land in response to God’s call.

The early church came to understand the relationship between Abraham and Isaac as pointing ahead to the relationship between God the Father and Jesus. Like Abraham, God was prepared to let go of what was most precious to him, his one and only Son, out of love for humanity. God was prepared to let his Son go to humanity, with all the dangers that entailed for his Son. Saint Paul was very struck by this extraordinary generosity of God on our behalf, as he says in the 2nd Reading, ‘God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all’. God let his precious Son go to humanity even though the consequences of that were the rejection of his Son and, ultimately, his crucifixion. Even after Jesus was crucified, God continued to give him to us as risen Lord. When Paul contemplates this self-emptying love of God for us, he asks aloud, in the opening line of that 2nd Reading, ‘With God on our side who can be against us?’ Paul is declaring that if God’s love for us is this complete, then we have nothing to fear from anyone. Here is a love that has no trace of possessiveness, a love that makes us lovable.

In today’s gospel reading, Peter, James and John are taken up a high mountain by Jesus, and there they have an experience of Jesus which took their breath away. It was an experience that was so precious that Peter could not let it go. He wanted to prolong it indefinitely and so he says to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is wonderful for us to be here, so let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah’. He and the other two disciples had a fleeting glimpse of the heavenly beauty of Christ, and did not want to let go of it. Beauty always attracts; it calls out to us. Yet, Peter and the others had to let go of this precious experience; it was only ever intended to be momentary. They would receive it back in the next life as a gift. For now, their task was to listen to Jesus, ‘This is my beloved Son. Listen to him’. That is our task too. We spend our lives listening to the Lord as he speaks to us in his word and in and through the circumstances of our lives; we listen to him as a preparation for that wonderful moment when we see him face to face in eternity and we can finally say, ‘it is wonderful to be here’.


  1. Thara Benedicta says:

    Key Message:
    God always prepares us for facing the challenges of our lives!!

    During the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus our Almighty Father beautifully declares that our Lord Jesus Christ is His Son. When going up to the mountain, our Lord Jesus Christ selectively calls only three of His disciples (Peter, James and John). It looks like our Lord Jesus was aware that there was going to be a Heavenly meeting with God and His prophets. It was God’s plan to prepare our Lord Jesus through His prophets Moses and Elijah. They both were outrageously courageous to deal with the rulers of their times. They would have strengthened our Lord Jesus by encouraging Him. Probably they may have said “Whatever happens, go on”.

    Our Almighty Father prepares each one of us according to the level of challenges we are going to face in our future. Some times we wonder why our level of challenges is comparatively more complex than others. The answer is simply that God has ordained us for bigger responsibility. The higher responsibility, the more the preparation. If we are going to teach five-year old, we do not need a masters degree. When we pray for bigger opportunities, we are also indirectly saying “yes” for bigger challenges.

    As we overcome smaller challenges, we also grow in faith to overcome bigger challenges. When we are perplexed on how to overcome the big challenge in front of us, our own story of how we overcame the earlier challenges is a good answer. Our own testimonies are our lessons. They will encourage us more than others’ testimonies because we have lived through it. In today’s Responsorial Psalm also we read, “I trusted, even when I said: ‘I am sorely afflicted.'” This trust comes from our earlier experiences with God only. So we should always look back and remember how God has brought us out from one of our earlier struggles.

    Let us look at today’s first reading how God prepares Abraham to test his faith. Even before this final test of faith – asking Abraham to sacrifice his only son, God prepared Abraham for this great test. God our Father initially called Abraham to leave his father’s family, his country and go to the unknown place which God would show him “on the way”. So he had to leave his country and relatives for an unknown destination. Leaving one’s own country and relatives without knowing when we would come back needs faith. Starting to a far-off land without knowing actually where we are going is even more a test of faith. The next level of faith testing was waiting for the gift of a child for 25 years after receiving the promise of gift of a child. Finally, it was sacrificing the same child by his own hands. With every test, Abraham saw that God always delivers him. With every test, his relationship with God grew closer.

    Another preparation from God’s end is making situations favourable once we complete our test. When Abraham and Isaac were climbing up on the mountain, God made a ram to climb up on the other side of the mountain. God did not allow Abraham to go down the mountain, search for a ram once the test was over, bring it up and then sacrifice it. He already thought that it would be easier for Abraham if a ram was near the site where Abraham was planning to sacrifice his son and made the ram to climb the mountain and reach the same site.
    When we undergo a challenge we should always remember that God is also working on getting a ram ready for us.

    Our Father sacrificed His son, but He did not allow Abraham to sacrifice his son.

  2. Ogbodo Eucharia o says:

    Today’s reading has shown us that no cross no crown, and faith is key to be a child of God,

  3. Sean O'Conaill says:

    That Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac would have been a violent act is as obvious as the fact that Jesus, in submitting to crucifixion, did not himself commit a violent act.

    What is common to both stories therefore – if Jesus is truly God – is God’s rejection of the shedding of the blood of another. We therefore see in the canon of scripture overall an evolution and transformation of acceptable sacrifice, at God’s behest, from the use of violence against a victim to utterly peaceful self-giving.

    Why still is this so rarely seen and remarked upon? Probably because from the time of Constantine in the early fourth century to the early decades of the 20th century churchmen came to accept that the shedding of blood in the cause of spreading and defending the Gospel was legitimate. Out of this misconception eventually came the idea of St Anselm of Canterbury that God had required the crucifixion of Jesus to ‘satisfy’ the divine need for perfect justice – and ‘redemption’ came to be understood in those terms.

    In declaring that on the contrary ‘The truth cannot impose itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the mind at once quietly and with power’ Dignitatis Humanae (Vatican 11) has prefigured a recognition that this was in fact the reason that Jesus did not use violence in Jerusalem – and that God the Father never wants, or wanted, violent human sacrifice either.

    As things stand, unfortunately, the meaning of ‘redemption’, and of ‘atonement’, is still cluttered by the hangover of Christendom and St Anselm’s theology of atonement. May the Trinity assist us now in clearing our heads.

  4. Joe O'Leary says:

    Thoughts on the binding of Isaac.

    It is regrettable that we read only a snippet of the Hebrew Bible in church, since this text is a masterpiece of high suspense attaining a sublime crisis. The version read in church cuts to the chase too quickly, missing the experience so carefully created by the ancient author.

    It is a text that had been a comfort to the Jewish people throughout the ages, with its message that “the Lord will provide.” Christian minds inevitable think of Christ mounting the hill of Calvary. Many have been shocked by it and wanted to cancel it, but that would not be a good idea.

    It also recalls another shocking text, Jephthah’s sacrifice of this daughter. At a conference of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR) in Rome in 1990, a Catholic missionary complained about evangelical fundamentalists in Africa who went on about God asking people to kill their daughter, whereas of course there is no such incident in the Bible. A voice sounded straight away: “Judges 11!”

    My friend Jean Greisch met a parish priest from Normandy who complained to him: “You professors have long summer breaks, whereas I am kept in my parish all the year round.” Greisch replied: “I would love to replace you during the summer.” But the parish priest did not take a break; instead he listened to Greisch’s homilies every morning. One morning Greisch addressed the story of Jephthah, explaining that it shows the absurdity of human sacrifice, which Israel was to outgrow.

    “That’s a very strange interpretation, Father” the parish priest said at breakfast. “Why did you not give the traditional interpretation, that the story warns us against rash vows?” “Oh, that’s a very flat reading,” Greisch replied, “I’m sure the Fathers of the Church would have given a deeper reading.” The parish priest said nothing. Next morning Greisch found a volume of Migne open on the breakfast table: a sermon of St Jerome on Jephthah telling us that the story is a warning against rash vows. “Oh, but Jerome was notoriously cranky and cantankerous. I’m sure St Augustine, for example, would find a deeper, more spiritual meaning in the tale.” The parish priest said nothing. Next day, Greisch found another volume of Migne open on the table: a sermon by St Augustine giving the same interpretation as Jerome. “Well,” Greisch said, “I can only congratulate you on your knowledge of the Fathers.” This was the parish priest’s moment, “Yes, they are my daily reading, and I must say they offer nourishment that I do not find in the tepid documents our bishops send us!”

    If it helps resolve our unease, let’s remember that we are dealing with legends, not naked facts. The Jephthah story has a parallel in the heart-rending drama of Agamemnon and Iphigenia. The presence of an angel marks the Abraham story as legend, conveying a spiritual truth.

    Comparing the stories of Jephthah and Abraham, we see the higher value of the latter. Not all stories in Scripture are of equal value. We can play off the better ones against the worse, letting Scripture interpret itself.

    A subtext of this story during Lent is “take up your Cross and follow Jesus.” No one wants to have a cross like Abraham’s, a real text. But heavy crosses descend on us whether asked for or not. In fact, one might say that all of us have a cross to carry: bereavements, duties, ailments, abandonment. More generally all of us experience lack, dissatisfaction, and the fragility and uncertainty of our mortal, sin-plagued existence. “I want something, I know not what. It is Thou that I want, though I so little understand this. I say it and take it on faith; I partially understand it, but very poorly” (Newman, “Prayers, Verses, and Devotions,” p. 389).

    So we have the cross near at hand. Let’s embrace it enthusiastically, especially at this season: “Ave Crux, spes unice. Hail, Cross, only hope,” drawing inspiration from the faith and obedience of Abraham.

  5. Patrick Rogers says:

    This is a great follow-up to the Reading from Genesis chapter 22. I love to see people reflecting carefully on what the readings convey to them.

  6. Paddy Ferry says:

    Thanks, Joe@4. ( I have still to read Seán @3 ).

    I was at Mass twice yesterday, different churches and neither priest preached on the first reading.

    Both men preached on the transfiguration on Mount Tabor where I have been twice in my life. Yet neither of them even said “It is good to be here” — at Mass. My old — and so missed–dear friend, Davie Gemmell (Mgr. Gemmell), God rest him, led both pilgrimages that I was part of in 1981 and 1984. At the end of the second Mass last night in our Cathedral, my wife, Fiona said “Davie would have said, ‘It is good to be here'”.

    The Abraham story is, as you say Joe, legend, not factual. I am reading Karen Armstrong’s book at the moment, The Bible. The Biography. What an excellent, wonderful read!
    Among the many wonderful revelations — at least for me — that she shares is that an exclusively literal interpretation of the Bible is a fairly recent development.
    Also, that the text of the Vulgate had been corrupted by the compounded errors of generations of monk-copyists.
    Now, once again, I must ask, how did the very idea of scriptural inerrancy ever hold any water?

    Also, that there were at least five writers involved in writing the Pentateuch.

    Would our Catholic scholars be allowed to engage in such exegesis before 1943 and Divino Afflente Spiritu — or, after 1943, for that matter?

    Joe, your mention of Jephthah reminds me, once again, of Handel’s beautiful aria “Waft her Angels through the sky”. Jephthah is now full of remorse.
    I would recommend Kenneth McKeller who was, according to Adrian Boult, the greatest exponent of Handel’s arias.
    Thanks, Joe.

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