Sorry this one is so late…
What kind of God do we see in the first reading? He drives Abraham off to a remote mountaintop and asks him to murder his own son. This is a tricky reading indeed. How can a God who is Love demand the literal blood sacrifice of a person’s only child? Possibly the God we see in the second reading, on who did not spare his own son but stood by and watched as the life poured out of him.
Abraham goes with God’s command, however. God has already promised him descendants and Isaac is his only chance to achieve this. Undeterred, Abraham raises the knife and is but a moment away from snuffing out his own bloodline when God calls him once more. God is satisfied that Abraham has cast-iron faith in him and trusts him completely. Because of this display of faith, God re-seals his covenant to Abraham and promises him descendants as numerous as the stars.
St Paul takes up this theme. God gave us his son. His only son, whom he loves. If God did not withhold such a precious gift, we can be assured of God’s abundant generosity in all other things.
Significantly, Paul reminds us to be kind to ourselves. If God acquits us (and he does), who on this Earth may condemn us. This reading challenges us to see God as the final arbiter of our souls and not to spend time worrying about what others are saying about us. It also challenges us to see God as the final arbiter of others’ souls too, and we’d best keep our harsh judgements to ourselves.
The Gospel reading gives us a glimpse of glory on Earth. The contrast with the scene we witnessed at the Baptism of the Lord in the weeks following Christmas is that there are witnesses present this time. If you remember, the account at Jesus’ baptism doesn’t say that the people present at the baptism saw anything. In Mark’s account, it mentions that Jesus saw the heavens opening. This time around, Peter, James and John see it too, and they are terrified.
Peter leaps to the rescue, as he often does. He puts his foot firmly in his mouth and says the first thing that comes to mind. I like this about Peter: he is unafraid to look stupid in front of his friends. He is impulsive and a bit reckless, but his passionate love for Jesus shines through all his actions. As it is, he is saved by God’s intervention, as the cloud covers the sun and leaves only Jesus standing on the mountain with them.
The challenge facing the apostles is the same challenge that we face every day. How can we come down from that mountain and return to normal? How do we take that encounter with God into our mundane lives without always wishing that we could go straight back up the mountain again and stay there forever. That was not Jesus’ plan for his disciples and neither is it his plan for us. At our own baptisms, Jesus opened the heavens and poured his spirit down upon us: we must allow that spirit to transfigure us each day as we go about our daily lives.