Father Donald Senior, CP

March 13: Second Sunday of Lent

Wednesday, March 2, 2022

Abraham's Trance

Gn 15:5-12, 17-18; Ps 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14; Phil 3:17—4:1; Lk 9:28-36

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all claim Abraham as their “father,” if with different nuances among them. Abraham is the first character to appear in the biblical saga after humanity’s remote ancestors such as Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his clan. 

As in today’s first reading, he is introduced as Abram (and his wife is Sarai); both their names will later be changed by God to Abraham and Sarah, marking the patriarch’s role as the “father of many nations.”

For Judaism, Abraham is a true Israelite, one with whom God makes a covenant and whose obedience anticipates fidelity to the Torah revealed through Moses. As Paul the Apostle notes in his Letter to the Romans, Abraham also becomes an anticipation of Christianity. 

He is declared as the “father of many nations” — ratifying the mission to the Gentiles — and his favor with God is his deep faith, which comes prior to and apart from the law, making room for Gentiles to participate in the destiny of God’s people. 

Islam can trace its Abrahamic ancestry through Ishmael, the patriarch’s son by Hagar.

Today, though, the reading from Genesis notes the patriarch’s mysterious encounter with the transcendent God. Because of Abram’s obedience, God promises him that his descendants will be as numerous “as the stars in the sky,” and forges a “covenant” with him, giving his people a vast land that stretches “from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates,” which is virtually the entire Middle East.

The covenant is sealed by an ecstatic experience. As the sun sets, a “terrifying darkness” envelops Abraham and there is “a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch” that passes between portions of the animals and birds offered as a sacrifice.

The God of Israel, the same God who loves Abraham and makes a covenant with him, remains a mysterious, transcendent God, whose power is both infinite and incomprehensible.

This haunting account of Abraham’s “trance” is paired with another moment of transcendent beauty and power, that of the transfiguration of Jesus. 

Three disciples of Jesus, Peter, James and John, accompany him up a mountain to pray and promptly fall asleep. But they will awake to witness an astounding moment. 

As Jesus prays, he is transformed, his face radiant, his clothing becoming “dazzling white.” Even more astounding, two of the greatest figures of Israel’s history, Moses the lawgiver and Elijah the greatest of the prophets, appear with Jesus “conversing with him.”

Dumbfounded, Peter offers to make three tents or tabernacles to honor the three luminaries he is witnessing. But as the Gospel narrator laconically notes: “he did not know what he was saying.” 

The true message of this visionary experience is proclaimed by the very voice of God that booms from a cloud (a moment evoking the experience of Moses on Sinai): “This is my chosen son; listen to him.”

We encounter these readings about ecstasy and transcendence as Lent begins to unfold. What are we to take from this now, in this Lent? 

One biblical scholar described the God of the Bible as both “unconditionally tender and awesomely majestic.” God both speaks reassuringly to Abraham and puts him in a trance. Jesus, the revealer of this God of mysterious love, both walks with his disciples up the mountain side and is transfigured before their eyes, his divine presence and authority affirmed.

Perhaps these readings in this season of spiritual renewal invite us to plunge more deeply into the mystery of God’s presence among us to renew again our sense of profound reverence for the God who has created the universe and given us the gift of life.

And, at the same time, perhaps they call us to take comfort in what Jesus, the definitive revealer of God, tells us about the boundless mercy and compassion of God. To remember, as Pope Francis has repeatedly invited us to do, that Jesus is “the human face of the Father’s mercy.” 

This is the one about whom the voice from heaven in today’s Gospel declares: “This is my chosen son: Listen to him.”


  • scripture