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Second Sunday of Lent: Faith is no illusion

Today’s readings: Genesis 22, 1-2.9-13.15-18; Romans 8, 31-34; Mark 9, 2-10.

The constant temptation in life is to believe that the truth is the crude reality as we experience it and as it comes across to many. Yet, the liturgies we celebrate and the Word of God that is proclaimed in our communities are pointers beyond this crudeness and can make us see the invisible. It is the mountain that provides the standpoint in today’s Scriptures from where to have the right perspective.

Abraham in Genesis, as well as Peter and his companions in the gospel, go through a refocussing in their faith. Faith, undoubtedly, is an uphill struggle and constantly needs purification, otherwise it easily rests on false premises and grounds which make of it an illusion. The two mountain narratives today are very telling, especially at this time of Lent when God’s grace continues to draw us and help us turn ever and again back to Him and His great guiding love.

The three disciples with Jesus on the mountain of transfiguration go through a deepening in their knowledge of Jesus. Peter’s enthusiasm, seeking to freeze the wonderful moment, receives a cold shower when suddenly “they looked around and saw no one with them any more but only Jesus”.

Theologian Frances Young, in her book God’s Presence, writes that the appearance of Moses and Elijah in the transfiguration narrative is used as proof that the resurrection is no illusion. Rather the world is an illusion, she writes; the resurrection is the revelation of what is and a transition into newness.

Peter was comfortable with a God manifesting Himself in all His light. But we know his reaction later when that light went off. Nikolai Berdyaev, a Russian political and also a Christian religious philosopher, claims that the real transfiguration and enlightenment of human nature means the attainment of beauty. The world we know, however, is marked by tragedy, the defeat of hope and the twisting of the good.

Transformation is what faith is all about. God’s image and glory are not always visible in our faces and in the face of the world around us. In God there is this attraction that gradually draws us into the transfiguration so that we also may have glimpses of light and understand that faith is no illusion. But we need to clean our faith from what sometimes is a warped logic that distorts for us God’s real image.

In the Abraham narrative from Genesis, faith in God is disjointed from the religious practice of offering human sacrifices. With Abraham, God is putting an end to the inhumanity of faith and of religion. From such an early stage, faith and religion are being purified from all that was merely cultural and from religious practices that were simply idolatrous.

Now, there is an interruption of the understanding of sacrifice meant to placate a powerful deity. God does not require the sacrifice of Isaac. The sacrificial aspect has had the widest and deepest roots in our religion. Sacrifice seen as a religious practice, pleasing to God, a mediation process in which the people’s relationship with God can be restored through ritual and practice.

These Scriptures today can serve as a wake-up call for our times as well. In our context, Lent is a time prone to all sorts of alienations provided by our conventional religion itself. There is so much pageantry taking over in our churches and which displaces the focus from where it should be. Faith, undoubtedly, has its cultural aspect and impact. But it is not culture and is not meant to become culture. We are actually moving away from those times when, as theologian Paul Tillich says, our religion was our culture and our culture was our religion.

God’s image and glory are to be seen in our faces as we are transformed into the true image, which is Christ. And that must surely mean that we are gradually being drawn into our own real transfiguration. For that to happen we need to embark on the inner journey of growth which gives us glimpses of the power of faith that surely is no illusion.

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