The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent always have part of the Abraham story as the first selection and a version of Jesus’ Transfiguration with Moses and Elijah as the Gospel for the day. Abraham is the prime example of true faith. Moses gave the law to the Jewish people. Elijah is the exemplary prophet among all the prophets. These three figures manifest the deepest roots of Jewish and Christian belief: faith, law and prophecy.
Jesus is the central figure of the Transfiguration. He is a true descendant of Abraham, not only according to human origin but also as a man of faith. Contemporary believers must never forget that Jesus’ teaching intends to proclaim the kind of faith in God manifested by Abraham. In Sunday’s readings, Abraham is told to sacrifice his only son. He experiences a dual conflict. God seems to demand human sacrifice. Isaac is an only son. Abraham’s trust in God was such, however, that he would violate the ban on human sacrifice and give up the very human desire to have descendants if that was God’s will. God wanted to test Abraham’s faith and Abraham was obedient.
As an observant Jew, Jesus practiced the law that was given by God to Moses. This law is summarized in the Ten Commandments and the dictates of early books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Once again, the central issue of the law is the matter of faith. The law is a concrete formulation of the kind of faith that motivated Abraham. The law, however, advances faith from a merely personal orientation to a communal belief held by a whole people.
Prophecy calls people back to obedience to the law when they have strayed from its dictates. Elijah, above all other prophets, was the one who called the people back to faithful obedience to the law. Under the influence of Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, the people wandered away from God toward foreign idols. In his efforts to remind the people of their ancestors’ faith and draw them back to their origins, Elijah confronted royalty to reestablish faith based in law.
The Gospel tells us that Jesus was transfigured before the disciples. His clothes became dazzling white. White is often a sign of absolute purity. In this context, however, it can mean total faith in God. Since Moses, as the symbol of the law, and Elijah, as the representative of prophecy, appear with Jesus, he is seen as the ideal figure of total faith, true law and genuine prophecy. Jesus fulfills everything that has come before him. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says that he has come not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill it (Mt 5:17). He is the true and only embodiment of true faith in God, observance of the law and promulgation of true worship. For this reason, the voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him” (Mk 9:7). Our Lenten observance becomes an invitation to listen, believe, observe and imitate Jesus.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.