2nd Sunday of Lent
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. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you” Gen. 12: 1ff
The Season of Lent is a great gift of grace for those who have faith in the Word of God, in the Word made flesh, who became man so that we might become, in Him, children of God, members of God’s family and His kingdom, because we are made divine though His grace.
But, do we deeply believe this good news which Christ reveals to us, that because He was born, lived, suffered and died and rose again we have a firm hope solidly established in Him, that, so are we reborn, live a new life, suffer and die with and in Him, and at last will rise again in Him? There are hundreds of millions of Christians in the world, but how many really base their life on this conviction and this hope, the truth that really sets man free from this world and its lies and false hopes. If we deeply believe in the good news of Christ, then will we not also be convinced that Lent is a great gift of grace, a gift of grace that is necessary for us to persevere not only in our Lenten discipline but persevere in the much greater gift given to us by Christ, our status as God’s children and co-heirs with Christ of the Kingdom of God.
Lent is the spiritual discipline that frees us from our tendency to fall back into the slavery of sin, into slavery to this world and its Prince, the same evil one who tried to tempt Jesus in the desert. Lent offers us the special grace to detach ourselves from small forms of slavery to the world and sin, precisely so that we will never fall under the greater slavery that never ends, because we become truly free men whose kingdom is not of this world.
Faith is of course the key to persevering though trials and disciplines we impose on ourselves for the sake of the Kingdom and for the sake of that true freedom which is found in Christ. That is why the example of Abraham is given to us today on this Second Sunday of Lent lest we already begin to abandon our Lenten discipline, to think that we can maintain our Lenten purification without faith. Abraham is referred to in our First Eucharistic Prayer as our father in Faith, and we truly are children of Abraham, who are blessed in Him, but only if we have faith like his, the faith that led him forth from the comfort and security of his country and family into a foreign land, because God had promised him a greater gift, that he who had no children yet, would be the father of a great nation in whom all nations would bless themselves. He was 75 at the time, beyond all natural hope of being a father, and that advanced age he was asked to leave everything that was familiar and dear to him, and begin a new life in foreign land, and his faith was so great that he did so.
But before God sent him forth, he in some way shows Abraham land which he is sending him to, the land of promise, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” He gives Abraham a foretaste of the promised land to give him hope and arouse in his heart a desire to go forth from his people as God commands. It is an incentive so that Abraham will persevere and freely desire this land that God has commanded him to seek. He will never possess it in this world as we know, but he will come to understand that God’s promise will be fulfilled in an even more wonderful way that Abraham cannot see but only cling to by his faith, and persevere with all his heart.
The same divine mercy can be seen in today’s Gospel of the Transfiguration. Jesus is about to undertake his own saving Passover, and the disciples will be sent forth to the whole world after his personal work here is accomplished and He has risen to the Father. Jesus knows how scandalized they will be by his death – they do not yet understand – and he knows how their fidelity and perseverance will be tried as they carry his Gospel into a hostile world Satan. Seeing the promised land was the mercy for Abraham, seeing Christ in glory was the mercy for the three pillars of the Church. Having glimpsed His glory even for a moment was enough to carry them not only through the events of his Passover, but through all the trials that lie beyond his return to the Father.
What the Apostles see on that mountain is not just the glory of Christ but the true promised land, the promise, like the promise to Moses, that this is somehow their destiny, their true homeland. In Christ they see the absolute future that is promised to those who persevere and remain faithful to their quest, faithful to their mission, faithful to Christ. Had not the Lord told them to keep their hearts fixed on Heaven, that their treasure should be in heaven. Likewise St. Paul says to the Colossians, “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is…”. And Hebrews 3:again specifies what we should set our hearts on,“fix your thoughts on Jesus,” and again in verse12:2, we are told to “persevere in running the race that lies before us, while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.”
It is Jesus in His glory that we run towards in our earthily life. He is our promised land, our eternal joy, our beloved. Jesus reveals Himself in glory to flame the desire of his chosen ones. The great spiritual writer Bossuet speaks of this desire, that Jesus refers to as hungering and thirsting, when he writes “This is no ordinary desire. It is desire like the one that leads us to eat and to live; it is an ardent and invincible desire that should be kept forever aflame.” It is not simply that Jesus strengthens the Apostles’ faith by his tgransfiguration, so their faith will not fail in the great trials ahead. He inflames their hearts with an invincible desire to be with him forever and enjoy his glory themselves. Love is more powerful than death, the supreme motivation that overcomes all fear, of death or suffering or evil of any kind.
The event ends with these words of Jesus. “Rise, and do not be afraid.” Do no be afraid of anything, for this is what I have called you to enjoy. And then we read, “And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.” That is enough. Jesus alone now, who will show us the Father. It was good for the three Apostles to be there on the mountain and see his glory. It will be good for us and them to see the glory that is His with the Father and the Spirit forever. That alone can help us to persevere.