12 March, 2017. 2nd Sunday of Lent

First Reading: Genesis 12:1-4

Abraham’s total obedience to God, prepared even to sacrifice Isaac

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.

Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:8-10

Suffering for the gospel will be repaid by our Saviour Jesus Christ

Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.

Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus transfigured on Mount Tabor prepares his apostles for his passion

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.

Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”


See: exegetical commentary on today’s Readings, by Kieran O’Mahony

The basis of our hope

(David Reid)

Response to today’s Psalm: Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.

When Paul or one of his disciples writes, they often incorporate some catechism-like expressions. Thus, the argument of the second letter to Timothy is introduced with tight expressions of faith worthy of much commentary. Take the words: “… God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.” (v.9) The mention of grace is now expanded and explained. “This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus…” (v.10) “Purpose and grace” emerge as holding together the Gospel of which Paul has no reason to be ashamed but, instead, for which he is honored to be imprisoned. “Purpose and grace” form a hendiadys, a figure of speech whereby one idea is expressed through two nouns connected by ” and”. Grace is God’s relationship with us and it is never without a purpose, the intention that God has in all creation and redemption. God is never at cross purposes. That purpose becomes clearer in the epiphany (v.9) of Christ Jesus which brings about the relationship which God has with us “before the ages began.” Today’s lectionary ordo is content to retrieve that journey back to Abram through the transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of Moses and Elijah before the disciples. The purpose-filled relationship which God has with us makes possible Paul’s confession of hope: “…for I know the one in whom I have put my trust”. (v.12) It is at this point that the Psalm picks up the story, even to its retrieval “before time begins.”(NAB)

Purpose, grace and hope come together in Psalm 33 which begins by calling on the musicians to engage in the poetics of praise: lyre, harp, strings, shouts. Then the word of God is introduced with a new set of poetics: faithfulness, righteousness, justice, steadfast love. The elaborate introduction (vs 1-5) is balanced with an equally varied and rich conclusion which brings grace and hope together: “Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you”. (v.22) Within the framework then of God’s covenant of steadfast love, the purpose of God is named and celebrated through the image of the word (v.6). The psalmist recalls the taming of the chaotic waters by containing them in a bottle, the avowal of all the inhabitants of the earth, and in an echo of Genesis, the psalmist declares: “…for he spoke and it came to be; he commanded and it stood firm.” God’s purpose is nothing other than God’s grace, the sharing of his steadfast love, to deliver those who hope in that love from death and to keep them alive in famine. (v.19) God’s purpose is God’s own self. Any purpose less than sharing Godself could not motivate God.

The Transfiguration of Jesus is unifying for the disciples who begin to integrate the deeper meaning of what they see and feel. This is preparation for the mystagogy of the post Paschal season.(Matthew 17:9) “While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” ” (Matthew 17:5) Thus, the epiphany, to use the word of 2 Timothy, has no other purpose than to convince us that God’s purpose is God’s grace, God’s steadfast love. Love is its own justification, its own purpose. God is love. The Transfiguration of Jesus leads to surrender on the part of the beloved, Jesus to God’s purposes, and the disciples to the purpose of Jesus. Teresa of Lisieux was transformed into God’s purpose for her when she discovered that her vocation in the church was love. There is none other. God’s love is God’s purpose in all creation and in all redemption. Genesis 12 begins the story of Israel after the rescue of the world from its own destructive ways (Genesis 6:5) through the ark of Noah; the blessedness which is the heritage of Israel (Psalm 33:12) is Abram’s gift to the world: “… and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Genesis 12:3) This is the heritage of love which is greatly guarded by God and which is inaccessible to the vain hope that is a war horse or even the great strength of a great army. Blessedness cannot come to the earth except by God’s own way of love. (Ps 33: 17) On the one hand, this is a repudiation of violence as the way to peace but on the other hand, real self-transcendence is required to allow oneself to be loved. Where to begin? “Listen to him.”

 Listening to Jesus

(José Antonio Pagola)

At the center of that complex story called «The Transfiguration of Jesus», we find a voice that comes from a strange «bright cloud», a symbol that is used in the Bible to talk about the always mysterious presence of God that is shown to us and at the same time is hidden from us. The voice says these words: «This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favor. Listen to him». The disciples don’t need to confuse Jesus with anyone else, not even with Moses and Elijah, representatives and witnesses of the Old Testament. Only Jesus is the beloved Son of God, only he has his face «shining like the sun».

But the voice adds something more: «Listen to him». In other times God had revealed God’s will by means of the «ten commandments» of the Law. Now God’s will is summed up and made concrete in only one command: listen to Jesus. Listening establishes the true relationship between Jesus and his followers. On hearing this, the disciples fall to the ground «overcome with fear». They are overwhelmed by that experience of being so close to God, but they are also afraid by what they have heard: can they live, only listening to Jesus, recognizing only in him God’s mysterious presence?

Then Jesus comes up and touches them, saying: “stand up, do not be afraid”. He knows that they need to experience his human closeness: the contact of his hand, not just the divine splendor of his face. Whenever we listen to Jesus in the silence of our being, his first words to us are always: «Stand up, don’t be afraid». Many people only know Jesus from hearsay. His name sounds familiar maybe, but what they know of him doesn’t go any further than some memories and impressions from childhood. Even more, though they call themselves Christians, they live without hearing Jesus in their heart. And without that experience, it’s not possible to know his unmistakable peace or his power to encourage and sustain our lives.

When a believer stops to listen to Jesus in silence, in her conscience within, she always hears something like this: «Don’t be afraid. Abandon yourself in complete simplicity to the mystery of God. The little faith you have is enough. Don’t be upset. If you listen to me, you will discover that God’s love consists in always forgiving you. And if you believe this, your life will change. You will know peace of heart».

In the book of Revelation we find this promise: «Look, I am standing at the door, knocking. If any of you hear me calling and opens the door to me, I will come in to share a meal with them». Jesus calls at the door of Christians and non-Christians. We can open the door for him or we can reject him. But it’s not the same to live with Jesus as to live without him.


Pilgrim’s Progress: Life as Journey

The years of our life pass smoothly by, each one seeming shorter than the last. We are on a journey from youth to age, from the cradle to the grave. In his dream-like poem, The Lotus Eaters, Alfred Tennyson describes a sense of weary resignation, one option we might take, in face of the passing years:

“Let us alone. Time driveth onward fast,
And in a little while our lips are dumb.
Let us alone. What is it that will last?
All things are taken from us, and become
Portions and parcels of the dreadful past.”

Through eyes of faith, the passing of the years looks somewhat different. We believe our journey is going somewhere: instead of simply terminating with death (full stop, finis), we will emerge into the life of heaven (welcome, transition into God’s presence.) We are pilgrims, like Abraham, moving toward the land of promise. Like St Paul, we try to deal with the problems and setbacks along the way, with the help of the Lord. And in the end, if we are faithful, we will share the total joy of joining Christ in glory, as the reward of life’s pilgrimage.

Pilgrim’s Progress: In our many journeys today (the age of mobility) we tend to move around a lot, without showing much signs of spiritual progress; indeed, in that respect we often appear to be going backwards. Our goals and desires are short-term, narrow, superficial. Moved by a restless urge for money, for celebrity, novelty, success and pleasure, we go round in rapid circles. But the pilgrims’ sights are set on a higher destination, and like Martin Luther King they can say: “I have a dream ” However far-off and hard to reach this dream may be, it is worth more than all the short-term desires we follow. Each step on the journey takes on meaning in light of the goal God sets before us.

A personal, inward journey: Our whole life can be made a pilgrimage towards God. Just as he called Abraham, so he calls each of us to be his own. His call to us is quiet but insistent. Not exactly in the form of: “leave your country and your father’s house,” but “leave your old ways, the pride and selfishness, the hardness of heart, the angry temper, the envy and the falsehood. And go to the land I shall show ” The direction of our pilgrimage is not geographical but moral: “Go towards charity, purity, sharing in truth and prayer and good-will. Go in the way of the gospel. Go to heaven.’

Meaningful Living: Having God’s command, and submitting entirely to it, made Abraham the first great pilgrim. Henceforth all his activity took on the value of obedience to God; he was on the high road towards Yahweh, the living God. The same spirit would give the deepest meaning to our lives too. Far from being absurd or useless, the pilgrim’s efforts to follow the gospel of his Master are full of meaning. Progress along this way is the real formula for peace of mind. Augustine said it profoundly: “You have made us for Yourself, 0 Lord; and our hearts can never be at rest, until they rest in You.”