Sunday, February 28, 2010

This Is My Chosen Son; Listen To Him.

Second Sunday of Lent
Reading I
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18

The Lord God took Abram outside and said,
“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”
Abram put his faith in the LORD,
who credited it to him
as an act of righteousness.
He then said to him,
“I am the LORD who brought you
from Ur of the Chaldeans
to give you this land as a possession.”
“O Lord GOD,” he asked,
“how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
He answered him,
“Bring me a three-year-old heifer,
a three-year-old she-goat,
a three-year-old ram, a turtledove,
and a young pigeon.”
Abram brought him all these, split them in two,
and placed each half opposite the other;
but the birds he did not cut up.
Birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses,
but Abram stayed with them.
As the sun was about to set,
a trance fell upon Abram,
and a deep, terrifying darkness enveloped him.

When the sun had set and it was dark,
there appeared a smoking fire pot
and a flaming torch,
which passed between those pieces.
It was on that occasion that the LORD
made a covenant with Abram,
saying: “To your descendants I give this land,
from the Wadi of Egypt
to the Great River, the Euphrates.”
+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 27
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom should I fear?
The LORD is my life’s refuge;
of whom should I be afraid?
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Hear, O LORD, the sound of my call;
have pity on me, and answer me.
Of you my heart speaks; you my glance seeks.
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Your presence, O LORD, I seek.
Hide not your face from me;
do not in anger repel your servant.
You are my helper: cast me not off.
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD.
The Lord is my light and my salvation.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Reading II
Philippians 3:17—4:1
Join with others in being imitators of me,
brothers and sisters,
and observe those who thus conduct themselves
according to the model you have in us.
For many, as I have often told you
and now tell you even in tears,
conduct themselves
as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their end is destruction.
Their God is their stomach;
their glory is in their “shame.”
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
But our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior,
the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body
by the power that enables him also
to bring all things into subjection to himself.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters,
whom I love and long for, my joy and crown,
in this way stand firm in the Lord.
Luke 9:28b-36

Jesus took Peter, John, and James
and went up the mountain to pray.
While he was praying
his face changed in appearance
and his clothing became dazzling white.
And behold, two men were conversing with him,
Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory
and spoke of his exodus
that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
Peter and his companions
had been overcome by sleep,
but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory
and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him,
Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
But he did not know what he was saying.
While he was still speaking,
a cloud came and cast a shadow over them,
and they became frightened
when they entered the cloud.
Then from the cloud came a voice that said,
“This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.
They fell silent and did not at that time
tell anyone what they had seen.

WE ARE FACED in today's readings with a paradox of our Christian faith - we belong here and we do not belong here. It is in this world and through this world that we are to find our God. Yet, this is not our permanent home; we are pilgrims on a journey to a more permanent dwelling place, a place of total union with our God of Truth and Love. That is the goal of living and we need to keep it constantly before our eyes. It is so easy to get obsessed with things on the way: our career, our financial security, the education of our children, the house we want in some desirable area... These are mere stepping stones to a life beyond. We must not, like Lot's wife, look back nostalgically at the past and become petrified into stone. Life, as one writer put it, is like watching a movie. One cannot cry out: "Stop! I want to stay in this scene!" No, the movie goes on. And life goes on. And it is important to know where it is headed.

Both the First Reading and the Gospel speak of striking interventions by God in people's lives. Let us take the Gospel first.

A moment of truth
Luke today gives the story of the Transfiguration, a story that can be found also in Mark and Matthew. It is important to be aware of where it comes in the Gospel account.

Just before this, Peter, in the name of his fellow-disciples, had made the dramatic acknowledgement that Jesus, their teacher, was the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior King expected by Israel. It must have been an awesome and heady moment for them all to realise that they, among all their fellow-countrymen, should be privileged to be his chosen companions. One can imagine how they began to have visions of power and glory because of this relationship (not altogether unlike rebels on the run who suddenly find their leader is now president of the country).

Brought down to earth
But almost immediately afterwards, they are brought very rudely down to earth. Jesus begins to instruct them about what it will mean to be companions of the Messiah. There will be no great palaces, there will be no prestigious offices. On the contrary, things will from that very moment seem to go very wrong. The Messiah, their Jesus, will become a hunted figure, hunted not by foreigners but by the rulers of his own people. He will be arrested, tried, tortured and eventually executed.

This was not the expected scenario for the Messiah's appearance on the world's stage and it quite clearly left the disciples in a state of shock and total incomprehension. It just did not make sense and Peter, surely reflecting the feelings of his companions, objected strongly. In return, he got a good scolding, "Get behind me, Satan!"

A privileged experience
It is in this context that the scene in today's Gospel takes place. Three of Jesus' most intimate disciples are brought to "the mountain". We do not know which mountain but, in general, mountains in Scripture are holy places, places where God is especially felt to be present. Although traditionally Mount Tabor is identified as the mountain in question, it really does not matter. Here Peter, James and John have an experience of Jesus totally transformed in his appearance. The light of God shines through him.

Suddenly he is accompanied by Moses and Elijah, two pillars of the Hebrew Testament, representing the Law and the Prophets, the whole Jewish tradition. Luke says they spoke with Jesus of his coming experiences in Jerusalem. What is obviously implied is that Moses and Elijah fully recognized what would happen to Jesus as totally in conformity with the tradition they represented.

"Heavy with sleep"
The disciples, however, are still not fully understanding what is happening; they were "heavy with sleep" (as they would be later in the Garden) but just managed to keep awake (which they failed to do in the Garden). (Their sleep is paralleled by the experience of Abram in the First Reading.)

As Moses and Elijah seemed to go away, Peter - impetuous as ever - blurted out: "Master, it is wonderful for us to be here! So let us make three tents [shrines], one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." The Gospel comments that Peter did not know what he was saying. Clearly, this scene was not for keeps. It was wonderful for them to be there but there was another world, another reality awaiting their Master - and them also.

Then, even as Peter spoke, a cloud came and covered them with a shadow and "the disciples were afraid". Naturally! This was no morning mist. They recognised the cloud immediately as the close presence of God himself. And they heard God speak from the cloud: "This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him." First, there was the support of Moses and Elijah and now Jesus gets the solemn endorsement of the Father himself.

Listen to him." They are being told to remember the words Jesus just told them about the Messiah, who would be rejected, suffer and die shamefully. If they cannot understand and accept those words, they do not know the real Jesus, they cannot be his disciples. As Jesus will say later, "A grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies." The suffering and death of Jesus are the seeds of new life for all of us.

After the "voice" had spoken, they found themselves with Jesus alone, the same "ordinary" Jesus they always knew. But they kept silent. They had nothing to say but much still to learn and to understand about the Person and the Way of Jesus. What they needed was the gift of faith and total trust in Jesus and in God.

Abram's experience
There are some parallels in the experience of Abram. Abram (later to be called Abraham) had been asked to leave his homeland and to go and live in a strange place. If he did so, he was promised a great future for his family and descendants. Without any further guarantees, Abram sets out. His readiness to put his trust in God's word became legendary in the tradition of Israel and is echoed again in the New Testament. "Abram put his faith in the Lord, who counted this as making him justified," that is, putting him right with God.

But, although ready to do what God asked of him, Abram asked for some confirmation. He was told to make an offering of some animals and to cut the animals in half, putting one half on each side. At sunset, as Abram fell into a deep sleep and as the sun set and darkness came on, a blazing furnace and a firebrand (signs of God's presence) came between the divided offerings. From this experience Abram knew his trust in God was justified. He never lived to see the day when his descendants were as numerous as the stars but if only he could see now how his God is worshipped "from the rising of the sun to its setting" (Third Eucharistic Prayer) by countless people in every corner of our planet.

Our transfiguration
There is still one thing we need to consider and that is how these Lenten readings are to touch our own lives. The key linking the First Reading and the Gospel is the passage from the Letter to the Philippians in the Second Reading.

The transformation or transfiguration of Jesus that the disciples experienced was not simply something they were to see and experience as happening to him alone. It was also an invitation for them to undergo a transformation and transfiguration of their own.

Our homeland
Paul says in today's reading, "For us, our homeland is in heaven", that is, the goal and destination of our life is to be one with God. There is no other goal. "And from heaven [i.e. from God] comes the Savior we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe".

How is that transformation or transfiguration to take place? By listening to Jesus, listening to all that he invites us to be and to do, however much it may seem to go against the conventions we were brought up on. It means especially listening to those words which caused such difficulty for Peter and his companions and integrating them into our own vision of life. It means having a total trust in walking his Way, a total trust that only his Way brings me into full union with God, the source of all Truth, Love, Happiness and Peace.

Living Space
The Irish Jesuits


Sarah in the tent said...

I once heard that, when Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the Prophets) disappeared leaving only Our Lord, that was to demonstrate that Christ fulfils in his person the Law and the Prophets.

This made me think about other disappearances: of Our Lord at the breaking of the bread on the road to Emmaus and then at the Ascension. The disappearance of Our Lord at the breaking of the bread could be a similar demonstration: henceforth Jesus is in the Eucharist. When Our Lord disappears at the Ascension, His companions, after gaping for a while, are filled with joy rather than sadness. Perhaps this points to the joyful presence of Christ within his church.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Thank you, Sarah, for reminding us that even in the midst of the Lenten Season, we can find comfort and joy in the presence of Christ within his church. That is why Jesus asks us not to put on long faces when we are practising acts of penance during Lent -- or in any other season. God is a loving Father, who exercises his justice with forbearance and forgiveness.