The mountain is a place of ascent – not only outward but also inward ascent

Sunday Reflection – 1 March 2015

Genesis 22:1-2, 9-13, 15-18
Romans 8:31b-35, 37
Mark 9:2-10
May Tam / FLL

Today’s readings narrate two pivotal events. First is the story of Abraham’s sacrifice of his only son and second, the episode of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The former had made Abraham the Father of Faith (cf Romans 4:16) and brought blessing, not only to the Jewish people, but also for all the nations of the earth. This blessing was finally realized in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus—“the son of Abraham” (Mt.1:1). The latter which was accounted in all three Synoptic Gospels revealed what kind of blessing it is: the heavenly splendor when the old (represented by Moses and Elijah) and the new (represented by the three apostles) people of God are brought into the communion of the Blessed Trinity in eternal glory through Jesus the mediator. 

These two events happened on a mountain. It was not a coincidence but meant to be symbolic. It was an ancient idea that mountains were places “closer to God” who was believed to dwell in heaven (the sky) and where God often revealed Himself (Gen 22:1-14; Ex 3:1-2, 19, 24:12-18; 1 Kings 18:1-46, 19:11-13). But apart from their natural physicality, Pope Benedict XVI says that “the mountain is a place of ascent—not only outward but also inward ascent” that is, they can be sites for transcendent spiritual experiences. In order to reach the summits, one has to stay focused and be prepared to face the challenge and even sacrifice that may arise while ascending. Yet the exercise liberates us from our “burden of everyday life” and can be transformative for “[they] offer a view of the broad expanse of creation and its beauty”. They lift us out of the mundane concerns to a divine reality. It is an ascent of faith. In the case of Abraham, he passed the test of faith. In the case of the apostles, Jesus prepared them for the test of faith.

Besides the many theophanic stories in the Bible associated with mountains, mountains played a starring role in Jesus’ life too. They were His sanctuary where He prayed (Mt 14:23; Mk 6:46; Lk 6:12) and sought solitude to be with His Father (Jn 6:15). They were His ambo where He preached and taught (Mt 5; Mk 3:13). They were His charitable quarter where He showed His loving providence (Mt 15:29-39; Jn 6:3-13). They were His victorious ground where He defeated Satan’s temptation (Mt 4:8-11; Lk 4:5-8). They were His merciful seat where He died on the Cross (Mt 27:33; Mk 15:22; Lk 23:33; Jn 19:17) and they were His glorious throne where He ascended into heaven (Acts 1:10-12).

Today Jesus takes His apostles with Him once again to His favorite place, the mountain. He reveals to them His true identity and comforts them with a glimpse of the future glory before His impending death. He invites us to go with Him too. Which mountain will you accompany Him? Which one will you stand on?

N.B. All quotations are taken from Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth (from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration), p. 309.



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