Second Sunday in Lent – Year B
February 28, 2021 – 10:30 AM
Saint Cecilia Catholic Community
Rev. David Justin Lynch
Genesis 22:1-2;9 ;10-13;15-18 | Psalm 116:10;15-18
Romans 8:31b-34 | Mark 9:2-10
+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Do you trust God? Trust is at the heart of all relationships between yourself and anyone else, God included The degree of trust is the most important factor in determining the parameters and outcome of your relationship with another person. The more people in a relationship trust one another, the more all of them will benefit from the relationship. The more you trust someone, the more open you will be with that person about what’s on your mind and how you feel. The more you trust someone, the more you can confident you can bet you won’t get hurt if you expose your vulnerabilities. But when you expose and reveal yourself to another, you consent to that person having more power over your existence than if you did not.
Many times, however, our trust in another person is put to the test, particularly if things between yourselves are not going well, such as for Abraham in today’s First Reading.
Abraham is a significant figure not only for Christians but for Jews and Muslims as well. Christians and Jews are children of Abraham through Isaac. He was Abraham’s second son whose mother was Sarah, his wife. Muslims trace their lineage to Abraham through Ishmael, Abraham’s first son through his concubine, Hagar. The significance of Abraham to all three groups was Abraham’s relationship with God, which as today’s first reading makes clear, arose out of Abraham trusting God.
Significant relationships between God and humanity were memorialized in covenants in the Old Testament. God established covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, and King David. The covenantal relationships between God and humanity involve mutual trust between humanity and God and some sign from God. Covenants can be either unconditional or conditional. An unconditional covenant has God promising something as a reward for past faithfulness, while a conditional covenant requires some action on our part. But in either kind of covenant, humanity trusts God to keep a divine promise.
Last week, Deacon Sharon preached on the covenant between God and Noah, known as the Noahic Covenant. That covenant was unconditional. As a reward for Noah’s trust in God to keep him, his family, and the animals in the ark safe, God promised never again to send a flood to destroy all living creatures. God sealed the covenant with Noah with a sign. That sign was a double rainbow, which Deacon Sharon explained to you extensively last week.
Today, the Old Testament reading focuses is on what theologians call the “Abrahamic Covenant”, that between God and Abraham. The reading was taken from Chapter twenty-two of the Book of Genesis, the first of the five books of the Torah. Previous chapters of Genesis laid out God’s promises to Abraham, which were twofold: one, that Abraham’s descendants would populate the earth in large numbers, and that those descendants would have land of their own. In other words, God promised to look our after Abraham and his family. Today’s First Reading has God testing whether Abraham can truly trust God to do that.
Here, God commanded Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. In those days, sacrifices were not like the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass wherein we offer our souls and bodies to be a living sacrifice to God. Rather, in Abraham’s time, people slew and burned animals, not humans, on an altar. The burnt animal was their offering to God.
By commanding Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice, God tested Abraham as to how far Abraham would go in obeying God. So Abraham dutifully built an altar and laid his son upon it. But when Abraham was about to kill his son with a knife before committing his body to the flames, God intervened, telling Abraham, “Do not harm the boy.” Instead, God provided a ram for Abraham to offer instead of Isaac, which Abraham did.
Because Abraham obeyed God, God promises to Abraham numerous descendants, that God would assist them in defeating enemies, and that they would be forever blessed. Abraham found out that trusting and obeying God is a good thing. And so should we.
Why? Because God is always on our side. As today’s Second Reading tells us, if God is for us, who can be against us? The faithfulness of God towards us should be a template for all the significant relationships of our lives.
Despite all the tribulations of life, God is on our side like a faithful spouse. A good example is Deacon Sharon, who for over twenty-eight years has always my back and has stayed with me through thick and thin. That’s how God is. That’s why the church uses the analogy of the relationship between Jesus and the church to demonstrate what a marriage looks like.
Today’s Gospel has something in common with the First Reading. They both involve a theophany, that is, God appearing and speaking directly to humanity. In today’s Gospel, God said, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” As God expected Abraham to listen to God, God expects us to listen to Jesus. Abraham was able to trust God because Abraham listened to God. That was God’s expectation. And God’s expectation of us is that we listen to and trust Jesus, who in and of himself, was the fulfillment of the New Covenant promised by God in the Book of Jeremiah as a covenant written on our hearts and not on stone tablets.
Peter, James, and John, who accompanied Jesus to the mountaintop, saw an explicit demonstration of the relationship between the Father God and Jesus. Remember, all three of them were Jewish men who knew the Davidic Covenant, a promise by God of a Messiah from the lineage of David. Further, they would be familiar with the Moses and the Mosaic Covenant, the laws given by Moses governing the religious and secular life of Israel in the promised land. And Peter, James, and John would also be familiar with Elijah, God’s messenger, and miracle worker. The appearances of Moses and Elijah on the mountaintop, with God’s voice coming from the clouds telling them to listen to Jesus, was intended by God to manifest in their minds, in no uncertain terms, who Jesus was, and who Jesus is.
In the events of the Transfiguration God wanted to establish for Peter, James, and John the connection between the work of those two gentlemen and the work of Jesus, who was the continuation of the ministries of both Moses and Elijah.
You may recall a few weeks ago, I preached about “types” and “antitypes”, how characters in the Old Testament prefigured, or formed a pattern for characters in the New Testament. The study of that concept is called, “typology.” However, not all typology paradigms have a strictly defined, one-to-one correspondence. In this instance, Jesus, as antitype, embodies both Moses and Elijah.
The lives of Moses and Elijah exemplified what it means to “believe in God.” As I have preached many times, the secular world thinks to “believe in God” means to merely assent to the proposition that God exists. Theism is a great place to start, but it’s not the goal of the journey. As the Epistle of James tells us, even demons admit to God’s existence.
But for God’s people, belief in God is something far different. Belief in God is faith in God. Having faith in God means you trust God to be loyal to you, to be on your side, to look out after you, to protect you, and to provide for you. That’s what we mean when we say we “believe in God,” so to speak. We trust God to do the right thing for us. Scripture demonstrates that is how Moses and Elijah felt about God.
Moses was much more than a law-giver. He was a leader and source of wisdom for the people of Israel. The deeds of Moses exemplified his faith, that is, his trust in God. As you may recall, Moses was born to Hebrew parents enslaved in Egypt. Unfortunately, at the time of his birth, the Pharaoh issued an edict that every baby boy born to Hebrew parents had to be cast into the river and drowned.
The parents of Moses, Amram, and Yochebed believed that their newborn son was special to God and, perhaps, even the promised deliverer of the Israelites. So, in spite of the threat of death from Pharaoh’s decree that demanded the killing of all newborn Israelite boys, these godly Hebrew slaves hid the little baby until he was too big to hide. They ended up putting him in a little ark on the Nile River where Pharaoh’s daughter found him.
Moses received the highest level of education in the palace of the Egyptian Empire for forty years. Moses married Zipporah, whose father was Jethro. For the next forty years, Moses worked as a shepherd tending Jethro’s flock of sheep. But then God called Moses to leave. Moses trusted God to guide him and show him where he was to go. Moses heard God speaking from a burning bush telling him to go back to Egypt, face the Pharaoh, and lead his people out of slavery into the Promised Land. After those events, Moses began his ministry as God’s law-giver and in that role prefigured Jesus.
Jesus was a law-giver as well. He continued the work of Moses by restating the laws of Moses in the format of a new covenant based on God’s love for humanity and our love for each other. Jesus simplified the entire law by distilling it down to two primary principles: love God with all your heart, mind, and soul, and love your neighbor as yourself.
What about Elijah, the other Old Testament character in today’s Gospel? Very few Catholic Christians know or care, who Elijah was, but he is significant, big-time, to our Jewish sisters and brothers. When circumcision ceremonies are held, a chair is left vacant for Elijah. At the Passover Seder, a place at the table is reserved for Elijah with a cup of wine.
Elijah, like Jesus, was a messenger and miracle worker. In carrying out his roles as such, he relied on his faith, that is, his trust in God, just like Moses did. Elijah appeared at a dark time in Israel’s history, when paganism was growing like fast-moving cancer. The people and rulers worshipped God in form, but not in spirit and truth. Many people also worshipped the false God Baal. Out of a population of two to three million people, only about seven thousand still were faithful to Yaweh.
Elijah confronted a corrupt culture. Having departed from the true worship of Yaweh, and embracing an idol like Baal instead, Israel’s downfall was certain and inevitable. Elijah’s approach was a confrontation, not compromise. His calling was to fight against idolatry and injustice to protest a corrupt society.
Elijah, like Jesus, was a messenger to the people of Israel. He demonstrated his trust in God by challenging the pagans as to who God really was. The worshippers of Baal and the worshippers of the one true God each erected an altar to offer a burnt animal. Elijah challenged the worshippers of Baal to persuade their god to send fire to light the sacrificial fire. Elijah cried out, “Who shall by fire shall answer, let him he God.” And the fire arose from the altar dedicated to Yaweh. Elijah was able to make that statement because he had faith that the true God would answer his call.
Elijah, like Jesus, was also a miracle worker. God sent Elijah to a widow at Zarapeth, where he saw God made one day’s worth of bread and oil last three years, and brought the widow’s son back to life after he appeared to have died. And the people beseeched Elijah to intercede with God to bring rain to end the hunger generated by a three-year drought. These stories of faith demonstrated Elijah prefigured Jesus. They inspire our trust and confidence in God. Just as Jesus picked up where Moses left off in the development and application of God’s law, Jesus also picked up where Elijah left off in his ministry of healing and demonstrating the divine power of God.
On that mountaintop of transfiguration, God gathered Moses, Elijah, together with Jesus to demonstrate to Peter, James, and John that they could have faith, that is, trust and confidence in Jesus as God’s messenger in the tradition of Moses and Elijah who exemplified the same traits we see in Abraham recounted in today’s First Reading: doing what God says and trusting God. Just as Abraham, Moses, and Elijah listened to God, so must we listen to Jesus, God’s son, as the voice of God from the clouds told Peter, James and John they must do, and we must do as well.
Abraham, Moses, and Elijah were all examples of obedience to God. They did what God told them to do. Too often, however, are their stories, and similar stories used to justify obedience to human authority figures such as parents, teachers, bosses, and government officials. When I was growing up, a big part of the elementary school curriculum was obeying human authority and following human rules. According to the theory of some people, those in authority over us were sent by God to do so. I could never accept that. An educational program that emphasizes obedience is a colossal waste of human potential.
Why” No one is God except God, and actually, the stories of Moses and Elijah vindicate my position. Moses defied Pharaoh. Elijah did not respect the authority of the evil king Ahab under whose rule people were led astray into the worship of Baal. As the people of God, our trust, our loyalty, our confidence is in God alone.
Listening to Jesus, as God tells us to do in today’s Gospel, does not mean we are subordinates who obey an authority. No, it means that we are a people transformed. We are a people delivered from bondage in the traditions of Abraham, Moses, and Elijah. Our deliverer is Jesus, who does not deliver us by exacting obedience like a king would, but by transfiguring us, that is, fundamentally changing who we are, changing us into something more beautiful and elevated, as Jesus was on that mountaintop.
To transfigure means a change in appearance or form. As we read in today’s Gospel, the clothes of Jesus became dazzling white, whiter than any soap could get them. In the parallel accounts of the same event in the Gospel of Mathew, the face of Jesus shown as bright as the sun. In the Lukan version, Jesus became as bright as lightning. The change that occurred that day was not in Jesus Himself, Who is eternally radiant with the divine glory in a way beyond our comprehension. Rather, the change was in the disciples, for Christ opened the eyes of their souls to behold His infinite holiness, to the extent that they were able as human beings.
The Transfiguration was a connecting point where human nature met God. What is temporal met what is eternal. Malachi, the last of the Old Testament prophets, predicted a return of Elijah, who at the Transfiguration appeared alongside Moses who himself predicted the coming of a Messiah-like Jesus. The presence of Moses and Elijah during the moment of revelation demonstrates that Jesus both fulfills and surpasses the teachings of the Hebrew prophets. But as is shown by the sudden disappearance of Moses and Elijah, God enabled Peter, James, and John to see not only the continuity of Jesus in the traditions of Moses and Elijah but to see his superiority over the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. Moses and Elijah did not simply have thoughts or feelings about Christ; they truly experienced Him from the depths of their souls as the Son of God.
On this day when we hear about the Transfiguration, the only appropriate way to celebrate it is to cooperate with the gracious divine energies of our Lord so that we also will behold His divine glory. That means that we too must become transfigured through personal union with the Son of God such that His eternal majesty permeates our existence, making us shine brightly like an iron left in the fire. Christians do that by setting a Christ-like example in the way we live with other people.
Our Episcopalian and Lutheran sisters and brothers celebrate the Transfiguration as the last Sunday before Lent starts, while we as Catholics observe it on the Second Sunday of Lent. So how does the Transfiguration relate to Lent?
The Transfiguration points to the conclusion of Lent culminating in the resurrection of Jesus. It is a reminder that it is the divinity of Jesus that enables his resurrection. Placing the Transfiguration in Lent reminds us that we will truly experience the gloriousness of Jesus through fasting and prayer, that there is, indeed, the light at the end of the Lenten tunnel.
As we reflect on the Transfiguration of Jesus on this Second Sunday of Lent, let us enter more deeply into the mystery it opens by choosing to live differently. Do what Christians have always done during Lent. Look within yourself at how your relationship with God and your neighbor can be better. Let the light of the Transfiguration shine deep within your soul to show you that which you cannot see or refuse to see.
On a practical basis, maybe you don’t think you’ve sinned against your neighbor, but your neighbor may feel differently. Or maybe you’ve cheated someone and it’s time to own up to it so that you can remedy any harm you may have caused.
We sometimes have to accept the imperfections of our perceptions and realize that only God knows the objective truth. Discernment of that truth is part of our Lenten journey that God demands of us as part of our ever onward journey to ultimately share in the divine essence of God as God intended for us from the beginning of creation.
Let us draw encouragement from the Transfiguration of Jesus. Let us respond to the invitations of grace in our daily lives in order to grow more fully into the image and likeness of Jesus our Savior and Lord by revealing His Transfigured glory to a world waiting to be born anew. Our Lenten observance is an invitation into an ongoing transformation in Jesus which begins in time but opens up into eternity. AMEN.