St. Mary of the Angels
Sunday Lent II B
Readings: Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18; Romans 8:32b-34;
A couple of weeks ago, when I was going to Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester for my annual
retreat, I told a member of my community that I just loved to sit at the large dining room windows of the retreat house and
look out over the ocean for hours and hours. He immediately responded by quoting
from a poem by Robert Frost entitled, “Neither Out Far nor In Deep.” The
poem describes throngs of people at the beach just sitting there all day gazing out upon the sea. Frost concluded with the words:
“They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever
To any watch they keep?”
In other words, just gazing out over the ocean or looking down into the water does not necessarily
mean really seeing anything or coming to any insight or finding God or becoming any wiser.
Looking out over the ocean can be just as hollow as sitting before a TV being numbed by dumb commercials and insipid
Needless to say, Robert Frost’s poem stayed with me during my retreat whenever I sat before those
windows. I was scared that I, too, might not be looking out far nor looking in
deep, frightened that I, too, was just wasting time daydreaming to no purpose. I
kept glimpsing Robert Frost shaking his finger at me and hearing him accuse me:
“You cannot look out far.
You cannot look
But when was that ever
To any watch you
To silence Robert’s voice, I spent much more time in the chapel than before the window! . But,
when I did sit there, I kept deliberately asking God to help me see out far and look in deep!
“Let me see,” I pleaded.
Well, climbing a mountain is like sitting before the ocean. We
climb a mountain to see a far out vista from the top. And we like to look down on the world below: on fields or forests, ponds
or lakes, farmhouses or villages. And we know that mountains, like oceans and
deserts, can be, if we are attentive, special places to encounter God. They are places of vastness, usually of silence, places where we can hear voices in the roar or whisper
of the wind.
The readings today from Genesis and the Gospel of Mark both picture mountain encounters with God. At God’s call, Abraham ascends a mountain with his son, Isaac. Abraham knows that it is a time of testing. Is he willing to do anything, everything, for God, even to sacrifice his only and beloved son? Abraham had to look deep, deep into his soul to find both faith and courage. He had to trust God and God’s love for him even though he could not possibly comprehend it. Abraham did not fail. His faith was deep;
his courage far-reaching. He met the challenge. He met God and now he heard God’s
marvelous promise: his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sands on the seashore.
Jesus climbs a mountain with his chosen three, the only three, incidentally, to whom He gave special
names: Simon, the Rock, James and John, Sons of Thunder. Surely, they sound like
men of faith and courage. On the mountain what did they see? They saw Jesus gleaming white. They saw the great Moses and
Elijah. On the mountain what did they hear? They heard God talking to them: “This
is my beloved son. Listen to Him.” But how far out did they see? How deep did they hear?
Only six days before this mountain hike, on the road to Caesarea Philippi, Peter had proclaimed Jesus
to be “the Messiah, the very Son of the living God.” But now, he
downgrades Jesus to “Rabbi.” One moment he wants to build tents;
the next moment, he is speechless and terrified. He and the other disciples still do not understand that there is a rough journey ahead and that they must go deep into faith
and go far with courage if they are to follow Jesus. Will they do anything, everything,
for Jesus as Abraham did for God? No, despite the dazzling vision and the voice
of God, the three could not “look out far” nor could they “look in deep.” They will continue to misunderstand
Jesus. These chosen three, the Rock and Sons of Thunder, will fall asleep while
Jesus sweats in the garden. And, in the moment of their testing, unlike Abraham,
they will run away.
In this second week of Lent we, too, are invited to climb a mountain with Jesus to see what He wants
to show us about our life and our journey even as He shares his life and his journey.
How are we doing? What are we seeing?
When the Father says, “This is my beloved Son; listen to Him,” are we listening? If God brought Abraham up the mountain to test his faith and courage, Jesus brought his friends and brings
us up the mountain to strengthen our faith and courage. The disciples failed;
will we? Abraham did not know how the story would end. Peter, James and John
did not know how the story would end. We do!
Does that make a difference?
As we pray this scene, can we affirm with our faith and our courage that we want to continue this Lenten
journey with Jesus, with prayer and sacrifice? We really have nothing to fear
for St. Paul reminds us today: “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?”
Therefore, in deeper faith and with stronger courage, let us go forward with
Jesus into this second week of Lent.