Are We Willing to Offer God Everything?
March 16, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Sunday of Lent
Reading I (Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18)
Reading II (Romans 8:31b-34)
Gospel (St. Mark 9:2-10)
Today we celebrate Transfiguration Sunday. Always on the Second Sunday of Lent, the Gospel reading is the Transfiguration; the reason for that is to give us hope. As we look at the various penances we have taken on for Lent, what happens is that about this time we begin to struggle. We begin to waver and waffle in our commitment to Christ. And so the Church places before us the Transfiguration as a sign of hope that as we look forward to the Resurrection on Easter, we know we first have the Passion and death to endure. But even in the midst of that, we have the hope through the Transfiguration – and the knowledge that the sacrifices we are offering to the Lord will help to change our lives – that as Our Lord was transfigured before His apostles up on the mountain, that what our sacrifices and prayers and penances will do is to help change us. We will not be transfigured, but spiritually we will be transformed as we prepare for Easter.
Even when we look at the account of the Transfiguration that we hear today from Saint Mark’s Gospel, it is important to recognize where in his Gospel he placed the Transfiguration. It is almost right smack in the middle of Saint Mark’s Gospel, the central point of his Gospel. And in Saint Mark’s Gospel, what the Transfiguration does is that it casts a shadow, sort of the way that we hear about the apostles being under the shadow of the cloud today. The Transfiguration is like a bright light shining against the Cross and the shadow of the Cross cast against the rest of the Gospel. So as we move forward in Saint Mark’s Gospel, there is always that shadow; the shadow, of course, being cast by that bright light, that light of hope. As we move towards the death of Our Lord, there is that hope of the brilliance of the prefiguration of the Resurrection of the Lord casting a shadow from one side; and then, of course, all the way at the end of the Gospel, we have the Resurrection, the true brilliant light which casts the shadow of the Cross coming the other direction. And so with the Cross right at the center, we have on either side these signs of hope: the Transfiguration and the Resurrection. So too for us, as we continue through Lent and go through this “spiritual death”, if you will, of Lent, we have on either side the shadow of hope which is cast upon us as we continue forward.
Now, that hope is something which is very important for us; without it, we would despair. And when we look at the first reading today, we see the importance of that hope. When we think about what God will ask from each one of us, we see what He asks of Abraham and it often terrifies us. We see what God asked of His own Son and we are not so sure whether we are willing to do what God wants in our lives. If we think, for instance, about what happens for most of us as we enter into Lent, we think of some small thing that we can offer to God, something that will certainly be an inconvenience for us, something that will cause a little bit of suffering, but something which is not going to inconvenience us too terribly much because otherwise we might give up. These things, of course, are freely chosen penances that we have decided on our own, hopefully in prayer, but nonetheless decided on our own that we would do for the Lord. The greatest penances, of course, are the ones that the Lord Himself chooses, not the ones that we have chosen. The ones that we have chosen, we can control; we can decide what we are going to do for the Lord and it keeps it within the parameters that we are comfortable with. When it comes to the penances God chooses, on the other hand, those are not usually within our parameters of comfort or even within our parameters of easy willingness.
God will ask us to do things that are going to be exceedingly difficult for us, but they are the things that are the most necessary for us to be able to grow in holiness. For instance, look at the first reading today. This is obviously totally out of the context, but let us just say that Abraham was living today and he was going to give up chocolate for Lent, and God said, “Go to the height that I will show you in the land of Moriah and offer up your son.” It puts it into a bit of a context for us. Abraham might have offered to God what was comfortable for him, but God was going to ask something that was far more difficult. But because of the call that God had given to Abraham, the patriarch in faith had to demonstrate to God that the promise of the son that God had made was less important than God Himself. God was going to require that Abraham had to demonstrate his fidelity to the Lord.
That might look to us as being completely unfair. Why would God do such a thing that seems so horrible? But, in fact, what we recognize as we look at it is that it was critically important for a number of reasons, all of which we do not have to go into today. But Abraham himself had, some twenty-one years earlier, taken up into his own hands the way that God was going to fulfill His promise because he did not see God fulfilling it in the timely fashion that he expected nor in the manner that he expected. Abraham took matters into his own hands and conceived a son outside of his marriage. God told Abraham that was not the son of the promise, and now He had given him a son of the promise. He was going to see if Abraham, now at an age of well over one hundred, really fully trusted Him; and He was going to ask Abraham to offer up that son to see whether or not Abraham’s heart was set on God, whether or not he was going to try to take things into his own hands once again, or whether he was going to do things God’s way regardless of the cost, knowing that God, Who is faithful and generous, will always be more generous than we are, will always be more faithful than we are. And so if Abraham was willing to offer to God that which was most important to him on the natural level – showing that God Himself was more important to Abraham than even his son –this would redound in profound blessings, not only for Abraham but for the whole world.
God chose that He does not want human sacrifice, but what He wants is a heart that is completely detached from all things material so that we will live for God alone. After demonstrating that, God does offer the ultimate sacrifice: He offers His own Son. And He does not stay the hand of the executioner when it comes to His own Son so that each one of us would be able to recognize the love of God, that none of us would be able to say, “Well, yes, God loves us, but I’m not sure if He loves me completely. I’m not sure if He loves me perfectly. I’m not sure that He would be willing to offer anything for me. Just how important am I to God?” God has demonstrated just how important each one of us is, just how much He loves each one of us, because He did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us.
So there is no question about how much God loves us; the only question is how much we love God. Are we willing to be faithful to Him even if He asks something that seems extraordinary to us, even if He asks what is the most difficult for us? Not merely giving up chocolate or TV or whatever it may be that we have offered to God, but are we willing even to offer to God the penances that He imposes upon us, the things that are the most difficult for us, the things that strike at the very heart of our lives? If He were to ask something of us and it would be exceedingly difficult, are we willing to say “yes” without complaint, without kicking or screaming, without trying to take back the offer we have made to Him? We do not need to worry about anything from God’s side; just look at the second reading and see what Saint Paul reminded the Romans. God did not spare His own Son; He will not spare us anything else. If God is for us, who can be against us? No one. The only thing left is to ask about our own selves. It is not a question of God – it is a question of us. Are we willing to do what God wants?
That is why we have the Transfiguration today placed right before us shining brilliantly, but casting the shadow of the Cross over us. Are we willing to walk in the shadow cast by that light, to walk to Calvary, to take up the Cross, but looking also at the light that shines from the other side of that Cross, the light of the Resurrection, to know that as we move towards Calvary it does not stop there, but rather we walk through Calvary to the Resurrection and to eternal life. Are we willing to walk toward that Cross? On this side, we look at our little penances of chocolate or TV, the Transfiguration from this side of the Cross. But from the other side of the Cross, through the light of the Resurrection, are we willing to do whatever God asks of us? Not what we have decided to offer to Him, but to offer to Him freely whatever it is that He chooses for our lives. That is where the real struggle comes for most of us: to do whatever God will ask. We have chosen our little penances. Are we willing to choose also the penance that God chooses for us?
As we look at this Transfiguration and we look at the change in our lives that will come from the penances we offer to God, we look beyond. We look at the shadow of the Cross cast from both sides and we ask if we are willing to be completely transfigured by the penance God asks. Are we willing to take up our Cross and follow the Lord to Calvary – but to go through Calvary to the Resurrection? Are we able, like Abraham, to offer to God everything? Are we willing to trust in God and that He, Who did not spare His own Son for us, will give us everything besides? If we hold nothing back, God will bless us abundantly as He did Abraham, and as He has every nation who would believe and is now blessed in Abraham because of his faith. Are we really willing to put that faith, which we profess everyday and every week, into practice and to offer God anything and everything that He would ask? This is not easy for us, but it was not promised that it would be easy. The Lord told us that if we do not take up our cross and follow Him we cannot be His disciples. He offered everything for us. What are we willing to offer to Him in return?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.