“He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything along with him?” (Rom 8:32).
The key moment for preachers when introducing the Gospel message to an audience must have been when they told potential converts that Jesus was crucified.
When St. Paul presented this message in Athens, his listeners laughed at him. How absurd to speak of someone purported to be the savior of the world as having been crucified, the most shameful death imaginable, hardly a sign of triumph, but an ignominious and humiliating defeat.
The “messianic secret” had to explain why God had allowed his Holy One to suffer and die as the way the world was saved.
Mark posed this question at the heart of his Gospel. The “messianic secret” became the linchpin of the revelation of God’s astonishing love for humankind. The crucified Christ was God taking upon himself in the person of Jesus, the suffering and death caused by the sins of the world.
This paradox is foreshadowed in all four Gospel accounts by the event of the Transfiguration. Jesus takes three witnesses representing the leaders of the church to a mountain top, where all biblical theophanies occur, and there the meaning of his coming death is revealed.
Though it will appear to be a disaster and defeat, the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ death is made transparently clear. A brilliant light and a heavenly voice affirm that Jesus is God’s own beloved Son, and that by his suffering and death he will fulfill the Law and the Prophets, represented by Moses and Elijah, who stand on either side of him conversing with him about his coming passage.
At the end of Luke’s Gospel, two disciples on the road to Emmaus will hear the same stunning message, already accomplished and being explained to them by a stranger, revealed as the risen Christ when they are at table for the breaking of the bread: “Slow to believe, did you not know that the Son of Man had to suffer in order to enter his glory?” (Luke 24).
On this Second Sunday of the Lent, we are given this foreshadowing. First, we hear the terrifying story of Abraham and Isaac, a father who almost murders his own beloved son to show his total trust and obedience to God. This human sacrifice – and all human sacrifice – is halted at the last, breathless moment, leaving us with the questions: What does God expect of us, and what will it take to save the world from evil and death?
The answer is that only the suffering and death of God will be enough. What Abraham is forbidden to do, God will accomplish on Calvary when Jesus surrenders his life to reveal God’s love. Paul declares in today’s second reading: “He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything along with him?”
This is Glory, the heart of God revealed. The end of the story appears in the middle. Jesus will be handed over to die on the cross. Yet, his suffering and death will reveal the glory of God’s love, so great and so deep that it saves the world.
Our baptism, which unites us to Jesus, is the first step on a journey that must pass through the Transfiguration to get to the glory of the Resurrection. We will share in the suffering and death of Jesus in order to share in the new life he makes possible for us at Easter.
The mystery defines us and surrounds us at Eucharist. Jesus, the stranger, is present in the Word and at the Table, and in us as members of his crucified and risen body, the Church. Witness the light and hear the voice that calls us beloved and then sends us to Jerusalem to complete the work of divine love that will save the world.