There is a culture of life and a culture of death. Quite ironically, while we live in a world that prizes life, we are continually surrounded by agencies of death. We feed the body and starve the soul; we value the life of the body and have no qualms about the death of the soul. Ours is therefore a life in death, and the sooner we realise it the better.

Against that backdrop, can the First Reading (Gen 22: 1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18) make any sense to contemporary man? That Abraham could instantly agree to sacrifice his son to please God, may seem absurd; we may even dismiss the passage as fictional.

The fact is that Isaac was a son of promise, so how could God ask for a sacrifice? But then, Abraham suspended his judgement and was ready to do so, as a sign of his faithfulness to God who had given him the son. His unparalleled act of faith prompted God to announce a beautiful plan, as seen from the following words he said to Abraham: ‘I will indeed bless you, and I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore.’

But alas, Abraham’s descendants betrayed his faithfulness; they systematically spurned multiple divine covenants – until God deigned to send his only Son Jesus to the world, in a striking parallel to Isaac’s life and death. Both Isaac and Christ were only sons, born supernaturally, as sons of promise; both came with the message that God still loved the world; both were sacrificed, on mount Moriah, which, if not the same as Golgotha, is thereabouts. Thus, Isaac was the symbol, Jesus the Reality.

St Paul in the Second Reading (Rom 8: 31b-34) sets us thinking: ‘He who did not spare his own Son but gave Him up for us all, will he not give us all things with Him?’ Of course, He will. And if God is for us, who can be against us? If this be true, what is the point of ‘the weariness, the fever and the fret / Here, where men sit and hear each other groan’? Or as another poet put it, ‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’ In fact, in the present chapter of the Letter, St Paul sings a paean to God’s faithfulness and love.

Elsewhere, the Lord reminds us of a truth that often goes unnoticed: ‘Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?’ (Mt 6: 26) Indeed, we are. Why, then, can’t we stop worrying and start thinking of how best to let His kingdom come, on earth as it is in Heaven? Let us believe and trust in Him who knows and can do all things; let us gaze at His face.

Today’s Gospel text (Mk 9: 2-10) reveals to us Jesus’ purpose of taking with Him Peter and the two Sons of the Thunder, James and John, up a high mountain apart by themselves: He did so to let them know His identity and destiny. And they, who would soon be destined to witness the Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, would better have their faith fortified right away.

Then, Jesus was transfigured before them. Peter, afraid and not knowing what to say, proposed to build three tents – for Jesus, Moses and Elijah. In fear and at the same consoled by what he had seen, he succumbed to the human tendency to bring the supernatural down to the natural. But when there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who spoke to Jesus, it was clear that the Transfiguration was no mean event, surely not something about relaxing or standing or staring. And what is more, a cloud overshadowed them, and they heard a voice saying, ‘This is my beloved Son; listen to Him.’

What else do we need to convince ourselves that Jesus is our Lord and God? Not only does His divinity stand confirmed, the prophetic role of Elijah and the leadership of Moses are endorsed. As for us today, it ought to convince us to ‘strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’ (Mt 6: 33). In short, we have to be transfigured to be entitled to participate in the Lord’s Resurrection.

We require nothing other than His message, to realise that earth is a temporary tent; that those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for God’s sake will find it? (cf. Mt 16: 25). This is indeed a matter of life and death, and Lent is here to let us know.