2nd. SUNDAY of LENT (C)
Dear People of God, today’s Gospel is replete with teaching about Jesus. Notice first of all that:
While Jesus 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 which He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.
The meaning is clear. Moses the Lawgiver and Elijah the most charismatic figure among the OT prophets were speaking with Jesus about His imminent exodus, Passover, in Jerusalem; thereby telling us that the Law and the Prophets of Israel had indeed been leading to, speaking of, and preparing for, Jesus at their deepest level and according to their supreme intention and purpose. We, Catholics and Christians, who desire to know and love our Lord and Saviour as fully as we can, should aspire to recognize and appreciate ever better the witness to Jesus contained in the writings of the Old Testament.
In the Old Testament God spoke frequently to Moses from a cloud that accompanied Israel throughout her desert wanderings:
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to Me on the mountain … and I will give you tablets of stone, and the law and commandments which I have written, that you may teach them.” Now the glory of the Lord rested on Mount Sinai, and cloud covered it six days. On the seventh day He called to Moses out of the midst of the cloud, so Moses went into the midst of the cloud and up the mountain. And Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights. (Exodus 24:12, 15-18)
In such a way Moses was taught by God throughout Israel’s forty years journeying to the Promised Land.
Notice, however, that in today’s Gospel reading, God the Father -- again speaking from a cloud -- told the disciples Peter, James and John:
This is My chosen (beloved) Son. Hear Him!
That would seem to be saying that no more would there be a voice from a heavenly cloud speaking to the new Israel, but that the words of Jesus Himself would be all that could be desired or would be needed. Indeed, those words would seem to proclaim Jesus as God, speaking on behalf of, and with the authority of, the Father Himself.
‘Hear Him’ is a command, a command for Christians of all time, meaning ‘hear and obey’. There, indeed, we have the first of all commandments for Christians, a command which Jesus Himself confirmed:
If you love Me, keep My commandments. (John 14:15)
But there is more in the Father’s words beside the commandment to ‘hear’ Jesus; there is also a most intimately Personal invitation or call – This (Gift) is My chosen, My beloved, Son, hear Him – hear Him in such a way as to love Him as well as to obey Him; the implication being that the only true knowledge of Jesus (‘hear Him’) is that which results in love for Him. Jesus Himself is sublime in His humility: He is well-satisfied concerning our love for Him if we keep His commandments. But the Father’s words are words of the ultimate and most sublime Father about His only chosen, begotten, and beloved, Son: they not only mysteriously embrace the full ardour of the Father’s beatific love for His Son, they also indicate something of the Father’s burning desire that we who receive this gift of His Son, should both hear Him and also come to love Him as the Father Himself wants us to love Him, that is, by our sharing, participating in and with, the Father’s very own love for Him.
Turning our attention now to the first reading we were told that, on hearing God’s humanly-inconceivable promise:
Abram put his faith in the Lord, Who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.
However, that most laudable initial faith of Abram -- soon to be named Abraham -- had to be strengthened for future trials:
The LORD said to Abram: “Know for certain that your descendants shall be aliens in a land not their own, where they shall be enslaved and oppressed for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation they must serve, and in the end they will depart with great wealth. You, however, shall join your forefathers in peace; you shall be buried at a contented old age.
And so, as an unforgettable support for such enduring faith by Abram and subsequently of Israel, Abram was given – as you heard -- a mysterious vision and historic promise. Abram himself had had some part to play in that vision, for he had brought, prepared, and arranged the animals called for by the Lord; and subsequently, he had stayed beside them, to protect their integrity as sacrifices, until such time as the Lord God Himself had appeared under the same fiery symbol He would later use again in the burning bush for Moses and the column of fire going before and guiding Israel through the desert of Sinai, and ultimately climaxing with the tongues of fire at Pentecost.
When the sun had set and it was dark, there appeared a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch, which passed between those (sacrificial) pieces.
Such was the awesome background to the Lord’s words of confirmation for Abram’s faith:
To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great River, the Euphrates.
As one of those described by St. Paul in the second reading whose ‘citizenship is in heaven’, Abram was subsequently named Abraham and, as befitting our Christian awareness of him as our ‘father in faith’, he lived St. Paul’s exhortation in today’s second reading, in the most exemplary manner:
Stand firm in the Lord.
People of God, let us now closely observe and carefully imitate both Abraham and Mary. Yes indeed, let us keep our eyes firmly on Abraham whose admirable faith in God was confirmed by the Lord’s mysterious and fiery self-manifestation amidst the sacrificial flesh; let us keep our eyes even more firmly fixed on Mary, whose supreme faith in God’s promise was confirmed both by the awesome mystery of the Lord’s Incarnation brought about in her own womb, and by the consummate mystery of the His Passion, Death, and Resurrection given us for our confirmation and constant growth in the faith we have received from God the Father Who first drew us to Jesus. Today, God renews His choice of us by calling us anew to ‘hear’ His Son -- Who speaks clearly and surely to us in and through His Church -- and on hearing Him, to love Him by the Spirit, now gifted by God for that very purpose, that we might in some measure become ablaze with the Father’s own love for His Son.
There is no faith without promises, there is no faith without mystery, and our Christian faith, in its ultimate awareness of and response to the totality of human experience and divine goodness, embraces unimaginable promises together with unfathomable mystery. There, indeed, lies an inescapable tension, but it is one designed not for our destruction but for an ever-continuing and harmonious development of all our human capabilities originally given us as the ‘image and likeness of God’.
Promises and mystery are not to the liking of modern secular society where tangible, controllable, profitable, and temporal – quick -- attainments are sought at every level. All too often, for such people, as St. Paul said in the second reading:
Their God is their stomach, their glory is in their shame. Their minds are occupied with earthly things, and their end is destruction.
For us, however:
Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will change our lowly body to conform with His glorified body.
And although we ‘await’ the fulness of what can only be bestowed on us in our heavenly and eternal home, we already have, and even now rejoice and delight in, what is a foretaste of that heavenly fulfilment: the mysterious presence and power of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in our life … the Father anticipating and fulfilling us so mysteriously, knowing us and loving us so intimately; the Son, our Lord and Saviour, our glory, our example and our companion; the Holy Spirit Who enlightens, guides, sustains and comforts us in all our efforts to love and follow Jesus with our whole mind and heart.
Dear People of God, those are true Catholic and Christian joys; they are not worldly joys but they are truly human and deeply personal joys, arising from a personal relationship with and love of God -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit -- and given for the Christian fulfilment of children of God become strangers in this world. They are far richer and deeper than the pseudo, much sought after, joys of this world where those who seem richest suddenly, and not infrequently, put an end to their lives in painful emptiness; where crimes are committed for pleasures which are totally insufficient because of their passing and yet ever-recurring and demanding nature, pleasures which can prove deadly for those who indulge them and, too often, harmful to others.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters whom I love and long for, my joy and my crown, stand firm in the Lord.