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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

Mark is graphically displaying his conviction that, by imitating Jesus, we’re doing what our sacred authors want their readers to do: to look at life from a completely unique perspective. If we’re able to pull that off, then we’ll actually transfigure life itself.

MARCH 1, 2015: SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT

Readings:

Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18
Romans 8:31b-34
Mark 9:2-10

If you’re interested in life – especially life right here and now – you’ll gain much from listening to today’s three readings.

But that will only happen when we hear today’s Genesis pericope against the background in which it was originally composed. If we don’t, some of us might think Yahweh is history’s most sadistic God.

This particular passage was written in the 8th century BCE by the Elohistic author of Genesis, a writer who lived in the country of Israel: the Holy Land’s northern kingdom. Governed by a succession of bad kings, many of Israel’s residents frequently copied the religious practices of their pagan neighbors, especially child sacrifice. With no belief in an afterlife as we know it, it was commonly accepted that if you generously offered your first-born male child to the local fertility god, that god would generously see to it that you had many more (especially male) children. Having lots of children meant that when this life ended, you’d live on forever in the memory of those descendants.  If you refused to offer that first-born male, you were playing Russian roulette with your family’s future. Of course, faithful followers of Yahweh refused to kill their children, often enduring the criticism of their pagan neighbors that they weren’t as dedicated to their God as non-Jews were to their gods.

Writing from a prophetic stance on this issue, the Elohistic author creates a narrative in which Abraham, the ancestor of all Jews, is depicted as willing to sacrifice his first-born, Isaac, if that’s what Yahweh demands.

The actual biblical narrative wreaks havoc with our emotions. Abraham not only has three days to think it over, but also engages in a heart wrenching conversation with Isaac as they’re climbing up to the sacrificial site. Fortunately we all know the “happy” ending. The messenger/Yahweh intervenes just in time to stop the holocaust, substituting a ram for the boy. All’s well that ends well.

But the sacred author’s message is clear. As in all anti-fertility narratives, faithful Jews were expected to go against the God-controlling practices dominating the religious lives of their pagan neighbors. These misguided folk believed that if they said a certain prayer so many times, held their hands in a specific way, or performed actions which attracted the attention of the gods – for instance, boiling a baby goat to death in its mother’s milk – the gods would be forced to grant whatever they prayed for.

True to their name, Israelites wrestled with their God, they didn’t try to control him/her. They received life by preserving life, not by taking it. Their relationship with Yahweh and one another was unique among their contemporaries.

In a similar way, Jesus’ earliest followers also stood out among their contemporaries on the issue of life. They didn’t take life; they gave life. Though such constant self-giving would appear to diminish the quality of one’s life, Paul assures the Christian community in Rome that their mentor, Jesus, actually experienced a completely new life when he gave his life for us.

No wonder when Mark includes a transfiguration story in his gospel. He’s always interested in in pointing out the uniqueness of Jesus and his followers. The historical Jesus’ faith not only transfigured him in the sight of his followers, it also transfigured them.

It’s significant that the evangelist depicts the transfigured Jesus standing between Moses and Elijah. Together the pair symbolizes the “law and the prophets:” one of the biblical names for the bible.

Mark is graphically displaying his conviction that, by imitating Jesus, we’re doing what our sacred authors want their readers to do: to look at life from a completely unique perspective. If we’re able to pull that off, then we’ll actually transfigure life itself.
    

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