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 as one of us, 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 two billion plus Christians in the world, but how many really base their life seriously 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 constant tendency to fall back into the slavery of sin, of this world and of 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 definitely the key to our 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 precisely 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, and assume that we can battle evil on our own.
Abraham is referred to in our First Eucharistic Prayer as our father in faith, and we truly are children of Abraham if we have a deep faith. We are also blessed like Him, but only if we have faith like his, the faith which at God’s command led him forth in old age from the comfort and security of his native country and of his extended family to dwell up in a foreign land. Thus God blesses Abraham because of his great faith and promises him three times that in spite of his and Sarah’s old age, He promises “I will make of you a great nation … [and] All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.”
He was 75 the first time this promises was made to him, well beyond all natural hope of being a father, and yet at that advanced age he was asked to leave everything that was familiar and dear to him, and begin a new life in foreign land, where he would produce a great nation. And his faith was so great that he did as commanded.
But before God sent him forth, he makes that promise of offspring who will become a great nation in whom all other nations will be blessed. In a later confirmation of this promise, while Sarah was still barren, God promises that their descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth. It is an incentive promised so that Abraham will persevere and freely desire this foreign land that God has commanded him to seek. He will never possess this land himself, and he will not see this innumerable progeny. And yet Abraham believes and trusts God’s word.
Then comes the greatest test of his faith when God commands Abraham, now over a hundred years old, to offer Isaac, his only son of his wife, back to God in sacrifice. And because Abraham was ready to offer his son back to God, in a sacrifice that he could not begin to understand, He was blessed a third time: “because you acted as you did in not withholding from me your son, your only one, I will bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore…” Only then does Abraham begin to understand that God’s promises are going to be fulfilled, but in a way that only God understands, according to His merciful love. Abraham must simply continue to cling to the promises by his faith, and persevere with all his trusting heart. God’s mercy is simply beyond man’s comprehension.
This 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 and how their faith will be tested. They do not yet understand his ways, and he knows how their fidelity and perseverance will be continually tried, even after His resurrection, as they carry his Gospel into a hostile world ruled by Satan. Seeing the promised land and the promised offspring was God’s mercy for Abraham. Seeing Christ in glory, and later in the resurrection, was God’s mercy for the three pillars of the Church. Having glimpsed His glory even for a moment was enough to carry them not through the events of his Passover, and seeing him after His resurrection would carry them through all the trials that would lie beyond His return to the Father.
What the Apostles saw on that mountain was not just the glory of Christ but a glimpse of the true promised land, the object of the Lord’s promise, like the promise to Abraham, that the glory they see in Christ is somehow their destiny, their true homeland. In the transfigured 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 and Hs promises. Had not the Lord told them to keep their hearts fixed on Heaven, that their treasure, He promised, would 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 3:1 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 Savior. Jesus reveals Himself in glory just once on earth in order to inflame the desire of his chosen ones. The great spiritual writer Bossuet speaks of this desire, which Jesus refers to as the object of our 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 merciful transfiguration to meet the great trials that lie ahead. He also inflames their hearts with an unquenchable desire to be with him forever and enjoy his glory themselves. Love is more powerful than death, as the Scriptures teach us; it is the supreme motivation that overcomes all fear, of death or suffering or evil of any kind.
The event of the transfiguration 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. It is 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 even greater for us to see the full glory that is His with the Father and the Spirit forever. That hope and desire alone can help us to persevere.