Reading I: Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
The sacrifice of Isaac provided the early church with one of its types for the death of Christ. Indeed, it probably underlies Paul's statement in today's second reading, also highlighted in the accompanying caption: “God did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for all of us.”
The interest of the story about Isaac lies not so much in its primitive origins, which were connected with the abandonment of human sacrifice, nor with its meaning as it stands in the Pentateuch; it lies, rather, with its later development in Judaism.
The upshot of this development of interpretation was that whereas in the Old Testament interest was concentrated exclusively on the testing of Abraham's faith (see Heb 11:17), in later Judaism this interest was often combined with an emphasis on Isaac's voluntary surrender of his life. To this voluntary surrender was attributed atoning significance, and the sacrifice of Isaac was further connected with the Passover lamb.
A different selection of verses from this psalm is used at the Mass of the Lord’s Supper on Holy Thursday. There its primary reference is naturally to the Eucharist.
Here the focus is on the deliverance of the just person from affliction, recalling the deliverance of Isaac. Note especially the phrase “Thou hast loosed my bonds.” In later Judaism the story of Isaac was called the Akedah, or “binding of Isaac.”
Last week we suggested that a possible theme for preaching might be the power of God in the lives of believers to enable them to overcome evil and to surmount temptation. This is what Paul is speaking about here. He raises a series of rhetorical questions.
The NRSV margin takes the last sentence of the reading also as a question. The sense would then be: “Is it (scilicet, No, of course, it cannot be!) Christ Jesus who condemns us, Christ Jesus who died, was raised, who is at the right hand of God and who intercedes for all?”
Paul emphasizes the absurdity of the rhetorical questions by citing all that God, in Christ, has done and is doing for us—this in a series of traditional formulas derived from the kerygma and liturgy of the early community:
- God did not withhold his own Son but gave him up for us all
(see Rom 8:32).
- Christ died (see 1 Cor 15:3).
- He was raised from the dead (see 1 Cor 15:4).
- He is at the right hand of God (see Acts 2:33, etc.).
- He intercedes for us (Rom 8:34).
Only points 1 (the Isaac typology) and 5 (the statement about the heavenly intercession) are not otherwise directly paralleled in the kerygma. But their style (the relative “who” and the “we” style) and their content (the basic assertions of salvation history) suggest that we have here also traditional formulas.
We commented on another version of the transfiguration narrative on
2 Lent A, and so we will confine our remarks here to the peculiarities of the Markan version. These are as follows:
- Mark says nothing about the change of Jesus' face.
- He emphasizes the whiteness of Jesus' garments (Mk 9:3b).
- He places the name of Elijah before that of Moses (Mk 9:4a).
- He emphasizes Peter's bewilderment and lack of understanding
- He states that the three disciples were also bewildered about Jesus' allusion to the resurrection of the dead (Mk 9:10)—this following the command to keep silent until after the Resurrection, a command that Matthew also has but that Luke omits.
The first four points are almost certainly taken by Mark from his tradition. Mark's redaction is to be found in points 4 and 5. He emphasizes the difficulty the disciples had in understanding Jesus, and the command to silence (here it is applied to the disciples; in the earlier charters, to the demons and those healed).
What is the point of this command? The answer seems to be that Mark is trying to formulate a particular christology, that is, an understanding of the person of our Lord, over against another christology current in his day but which he rejects.
This other christology saw in Jesus a direct epiphany of divine power displayed in his miracles and culminating in the Transfiguration. Against that Mark asserts his christology of the suffering Son of Man. Hence, neither the true christology nor the Transfiguration can be disclosed until after the Resurrection.
Why do the disciples constantly misunderstand? They represent, I think, Mark's church, which is very attracted to the epiphany christology of Mark's opponents, but, like the blind man in Mark 8:22, they gradually come to see that Jesus is not merely the Christ, the epiphany of God, but the suffering Son of Man, who attains to his glory only through the passion.
This final disclosure of the true disciples comes only after the resurrection (Mk 14:28; 16:7) when they see the risen Lord in Galilee. If they disclosed the transfiguration before the death and Resurrection, it would be an expression of a wrong christology, involving glory without the cross. The oblique message of Mark's version of the Transfiguration is: No cross, no crown.