The Preface of the second Sunday of Lent tells us that the impressive display of breathtaking glory enveloping even the body of Jesus at the Transfiguration, was shown to Peter, James, and John to help them (and the rest of the group) to get over the scandal of the cross. (cf. Mark 9:2-10) 

To fully appreciate the intensity of today’s readings, we need to become a bit familiar with their colorful oriental symbolism. 

A high mountain: God reveals his presence on high mountains as, even physically, they are closer to heaven… 

However, closeness to God generates ambivalence:  Peter can joyfully exclaim: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” and yet, at the same time, he and the other two were so terrified. 

Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them. On this earth, there is a permanent cloud shielding us from God’s blinding light and tremendous majesty.  It reminds us of his total otherness and the impenetrable mystery of his divine nature. 

As they were coming down from the mountain: save for precious moments of intimacy with the Lord, most of our life unfolds in “valleys” which tend to be frightening and dark. In those shadowy valleys, we must contend with the many trials and challenges of life and be filled with hope to bear the fruits of the Spirit. 

The following verse from Psalm 23 should provide the necessary hope: Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage. Psalm 23:4 

Speaking of oriental symbolism, first let me give you the message of the 1st reading as if it were conveyed in a bare western narrative. (cf. Genesis 22:1-18) 

Archeological excavations in Palestine reveal that, at the time of Abraham, local kings, and other influential members of the community, routinely, sacrificed their firstborns to their gods to placate them and to secure their favors at the outset of important enterprises, like the founding of a city. 

Once Abraham learned about Yahweh God, he found himself quickly confused and torn: was he to adhere to those barbaric local customs and sacrifice his only son Isaac or spare him for he was his ONLY son and there was the physical impossibility of getting another one since he was a hundred years old, and his wife Sarah was way past childbearing age and totally barren?  

This would be the colorless and cold narrative of Abraham’s anguish and consuming torment. 

Intensely grateful to God, let us now enjoy, anew, this most famous page of the Bible enriched with oriental symbolism, pathos, and drama.  

The oriental way of revealing truths is such that, as we read it, we can empathize with the ageless biblical text. In this case, we readily see the similarity between the dark valley in which, at times, we find ourselves and the obscure valley from which Abraham was trying to climb out. 

Let us dwell on God’s words to Abraham: “Take your son Isaac, your ONLY one, whom you love…” The emphasis, of course, is on these words: your only one… 

In the verses that are omitted in today’s 1st reading, we find something else that could help us shorten our stay in valleys and increase our chances of climbing to mountaintops. 

Old Abraham ascends the mountain holding in one hand a torch with which to ignite the pyre to burn the holocaust and, in the other, the knife with which, eventually, he would have to slaughter his only son.  

Young Isaac is climbing next to him carrying the wood on his shoulders. 

As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham. “Father!” he said. “Yes, son,” he replied. Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?”  

Imagine what indescribable anguish suddenly grips the heart of Abraham at those words from his only son! Then, regaining his composure, he utters one of the most comforting prophecies ever unveiled:  

8 “Son,” Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust.” Then the two continued going forward. Genesis 22:7-8 

Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, whenever we find ourselves going through an obscure valley with confused mind and very heavy heart, we can say: Even when I walk through a dark valley, I fear no harm for you are at my side; your rod and staff give me courage. Psalm 23:4 

However, there are times in which even Psalm 23 cannot bring us all the light and the comfort we need.  

That is why, every weekend, we gather in our church to re-present for ourselves the most solid event that proves that nothing and no one can separate us from the Father’s infinite love. (cf. Romans 8:31-34) 

Every time we gather to do Eucharist, we should cry out with Peter: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here!” 

It is good for us to be here, on the Lord’s holy mountain to thank him for having sacrificed his ONLY Son on the cross for us.  

It is good for us to be here as often as possible so that we can look with unwavering hope forward to the day of our own Transfiguration, forever away from all the dark valleys of this passing world.