SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT (2022)
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalms 27:1, 7-9, 13-14
When, in our first reading from Genesis, the Lord God took Abram outside he saw the night sky as he had never seen it before. Not that there were overly large cities, unprotected by ‘night-sky’ ordinances, whose bright and garish light bled into the heavens, dimming God’s natural beauty. Know, it’s more a matter of Abram making the time to look at a sky under which he so often passed, doing the things he did everyday, and taking very little notice of the heavens above. Like us, who so often take the magnificent beauty of the ordinary for granted, Abram just never noticed the night sky, until the stars shining in all their wonder served as an image of how blessed Abram would be, for as uncountable as the stars in the heaven were, so too, his descendants would be too many to number. Abram was grateful, and he “put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.”
So righteous was it, that the Lord God makes a covenant with Abram (whose name will soon become Abraham), further affirming the covenant made with Noah – you will be my people, and I will be your God – and he gave the future descendants an enormous amount of land, on which they could flourish and multiply. The covenant would be one of many, all finding their fulfillment in the last covenant, the covenant made by Jesus the Christ, a covenant, not sealed with the blood of goats and birds, but sealed with Jesus’ own blood on the cross.
Prayer is a major theme in Luke’s gospel, and in today’s gospel, shortly after the hecticness of feeding five thousand people from five loaves and two fish, Jesus takes “Peter, John and James up the mountain to pray.” While this is also after the first passion prediction, what happens next does not happen just because the disciples needed a boost in their faith. Rather, for Jesus it is a sign and symbol of what they are working for, and a sign and a symbol of the resurrection yet to come, and well beyond the scope of something to be imagined even by Jesus’ favorite disciples.
The disciples, like Abram in the first reading, are awestruck, dumbfounded, overwhelmed, and, perhaps, a little afraid. In the midst of Jesus’ intense prayer (like Moses before the holy bush), His countenance changes and His clothing becomes “dazzling white” (like the stars in the heavens!). Indeed, Moses and Elijah also appear in glory, speaking with Jesus about His “exodus.” Jesus’ exodus will not be from Egypt like the Jewish people so fondly recall. His exodus will be from this world to the world where life is eternal, and where Jesus will take His rightful place at the right hand of the Father.
That the disciples did not fully understand what was happening, is voiced by Peter, who “did not know what he was saying.” Peter felt the vision was more of this world than the next, and Peter wanted to “make three tents,” as though they were going to be there a long time. Who wouldn’t want these moments of wonder and awe to last as long as possible, but staying on the mountain was never an option for Jesus. Jesus had a mission to fulfill, and that would only happen by going down the mountain and go shoulder to shoulder with those in need of their mercy and kindness, and go shoulder to shoulder with those who would challenge and reject them. This moment of glory would end by the hand of it’s creator, for as God had spoken from the cloud before, He once again speaks with the simplest of messages: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
We generally are not the best listeners (even with perfect hearing). Indeed, in this day and age, with the destruction of a democratic sovereign country as the backdrop, our own country has a problem distinguishing fact from fiction. The Russian people, those not already jailed for their peaceful protests, are victimized by a dictator, has thrown a much maligned press out of the country, making lying even easier and more blatant. In our country, we blessedly still have a press, and while they are booed and maligned by some, they are the guarantors of ever becoming a country like Russia or North Korea or China. Real listening, the kind God wants for His Son, involves being able to distinguish fact from fiction.
This is not a new problem. More worried about their places of honor and widening their phylacteries, the Pharisees of Jesus’ day would cooperate in His death on a cross. They clearly never ‘listened’ to what Jesus was saying.
After Jesus, Paul, in our second reading to the Philippians, warns his listeners that some are modeling their lives on something other than the way he taught them, other than the way Jesus taught them. They conduct themselves, says Paul, “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.” They are people who have not listened, truly listened, to what Jesus and Paul have taught them. They heard them speak, but they did not listen.
It is all the more important in our own time to be people who truly listen, who ponder what is being said in order to distinguish fact from fiction. The numbers of people, either because of personal gain or sheer malice, want to lead some people astray. By listening to the word that was spoken by Jesus we truly will stand firm in the Lord, for “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we 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.” That subjection will not confine us. Rather, it will enable us to be free, and be the people God intended us to be.