Sunday, March 4, 2007

2nd Sunday in Lent

2nd Sunday of Lent
C cycle

Reading 1. Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Reading II. Philippians 3:17-4:1
Gospel. Luke 9: 28b-36 (Transfiguration)

At one point in the gospels our Lord refers to someone, I believe it was Nicodemus, as a "true son of Abraham." It was probably the highest compliment our Lord ever gave to anyone for Abraham was the father of Israel, the people of God. In today's first reading Abraham "put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness." As a result the Lord makes a kind of agreement--a covenant--with Abraham that is meant to last forever. Because of his faith the Lord will give to Abraham and his aged wife, Sarah, the son they had longed for all their lives.

Later in the story, however, the Lord asks Abraham as a sign of faith to sacrifice his only son in much the same way as he had sacrificed the animals in today's reading. Abraham obeyed but just as his knife was set to strike, the Lord intervened and stopped him. Thank goodness! What would we think of a God who could allow a man to kill his own son?

Instead, we see in today's gospel that the Lord is going to sacrifice His own Son so that our sons and daughters might live. St. Luke in chapter 9 of his gospel gives us the story of the Transfiguration. Just as the Temptation in the Desert has always been the subject of the first Sunday in Lent, the Transfiguration of our Lord has always been the subject of the second Sunday in Lent.
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Jesus is far along in His mission when the Transfiguration occurs. He has given the Sermon on the Mount, healed the sick, driven out devils, and raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead. Now in chapter 9 Jesus feeds the multitude with five loaves and two fishes. After this incredible miracle, He asks the disciples, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" Peter answers, "the Christ of God," and our Lord then reveals the mission of the Christ:

The Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief
priests and Scribes, and be put to death, and on the third day rise again."

Immediately after this prophecy of our Lord's suffering and death, Luke goes right to the scene of the Transfiguration where we get a glimpse of the Resurrection. "Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray," just as He would later do in the Garden of Gethsemane. Just as in the garden they fell asleep, but while "He was praying, His face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white." The three disciples then awoke to behold Him in His glory standing with Moses and Elijah, two of the greatest figures in Hebrew history.

Our reading says that Jesus was speaking with them of his "exodus" that He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. The word "exodus" is full of meaning. Moses led the Israelites out of slavery to the promised land--Jesus was about to do the same for us. Older translations say that Jesus was speaking of "his death, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem."

Finally, a cloud envelops them and they hear a voice just as they did at the Baptism of the Lord saying, "This is my beloved Son; hear Him." The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus are linked to the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham and his spiritual descendants. We are the true sons and daughters of Abraham when we hear the Word of the Lord and believe.

In today's second reading from the letter to the Philippians, Paul is telling us to be true to the covenant and conduct ourselves "according to the model you have in us." He knew that in his time as well as in ours, many "conduct themselves 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.

But for those who "stand firm in the Lord," they will receive a promise similar to the one made to Abraham:

He will change our lowly body
to conform with His glorified body...

When Jesus spoke of his own crucifixion, he also told his disciples and us that we must also bear our cross.

If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For he who would save his life will lose it; but he who loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, but ruin or lose himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory..."

This is why our little sacrifices during the forty days of Lent are so meaningful. They are a reminder that it is impossible to stand firm in the Lord without sacrifice of some kind.

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