Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Second Sunday of Lent, Feb. 25, 2018.)

Sue, the kindergarten teacher, was just finishing a lesson in the parish school. As part of the review, she asked the children: “Why does God love us so much?”

After a brief silence, the children wrinkled their brows as they tried to think of the answer. Suddenly the proverbial light-bulb went on in one student’s mind. Katie’s hand shot up.

“I know,” she said. “Because he only has one of each of us.”

Little Katie gave a great answer. We are reminded today of the magnitude of God’s love today as we observe the Second Sunday of Lent. The Gospel account recalls the Transfiguration of the Lord. Jesus takes Peter, James and John up the mountain. Many times the “mountain” is a place of significance even if it is unnamed. You might recall in Exodus that Moses went up the mountain where he encountered God  and was given the mission of freeing them from slavery in Egypt.

Here Jesus is transfigured and appears with Elijah and Moses, who represent the whole of the covenant – the law and the prophets. When Peter – “hardly knowing what to say” – suggests three tents, he puts Jesus on the same plain as Elijah and Moses. God the Father’s voice is then heard: “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.” As they are coming down, Jesus speaks to the disciples about his passion.

The Father refers to Jesus as his “beloved Son.” It is this Son whom he loves, whom he sends to undergo the Passion, Death and Resurrection to free man – not from any slavery to an earthly power or force, but from the power of sin and death.

The offering is an act of love. God loves us so much that he is willing to sacrifice his Son for us. The significance of this sacrifice is highlighted and, in a sense, prepared for by the account of Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac.

Isaac was the long-awaited and unexpected child of Abraham and Sarah. The birth of Isaac was the fulfillment of one of God’s promises to Abraham. Now God is asking Abraham to sacrifice Isaac: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him up as a holocaust on a height that I will point out to you.”

Surely Abraham was heartbroken at the request. Yet he trusts in the Lord and is obedient to the end. He was willing to offer his son to the Lord because of his faith. Then, just as he is about to sacrifice Isaac, the Lord stops Abraham.

It was only a test, and through it, Abraham’s love for God and his son is strengthened.

The sacrifice of Isaac foreshadows the Father’s own offering of his Son. Jesus is the one who accepts the mission and willingly allows the forces of this world to come upon him, trusting that the Father will raise him from the dead.

God the Father and God the Son love. They love each other and they love each one of us. In his Letter to the Romans, which is the second reading for today’s Mass, St. Paul considers the power of this love to protect us and guard us: “Brothers and sisters, if God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”

God himself has freed us from sin and death, once for all, there is no force that is greater than this. There is no love greater than this.

In the kindergarten class, Katie was asked, “Why do you think God loves us so much?” She answered, “Because he only has one of each of us.” As we continue the journey through Lent, we have the opportunity to grow in our awareness of God’s love and mercy in our lives. Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection was for all and at the same time for each – each one of us.

In other words, the Father offers the Son and the Son offers himself because God loves each one of us. He loves you and he loves me. And his is the greatest love, which no one and nothing can ever take away.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.