2nd Sunday of Lent
SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
Genesis 22:1-2, 9a, 10-13, 15-18 | Romans 8:31b-34 | Mark 9:2-10
Oh, God, who have commanded us to listen to your Beloved Son, be pleased, we pray, to nourish us inwardly by your word that, with spiritual sight made pure, we may rejoice to behold your glory. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever, amen.
WE continue our journey into the depths of the truth of the gospel during these Sundays of Lent, and what we’re looking at today is something very important for us to understand. It really can be, in a way, an answer to the question that we heard at the end of the gospel. What does it mean to rise from the dead? What does it mean to live the life that God has called us to? What does it feel like when we allow God to engage in our lives, and what is the difference when he is part of us and when we are alone? And what is it about him that is so important for us to see? Because the promise of arising from the dead is alive in every human being who’s ever been born, a longing to be free, to be themselves, to be in the truth. Death and darkness is where we know instinctively that we won’t find fulfillment there. So let’s examine what this set of readings is opening our hearts to be.
The first, clearest thing that I feel in these readings is summarized in the second reading. How can we ever imagine a God against us? How and when we realize what he has done for us; how, when we realize who he really is and the commitment he’s made to us and the sacrifices he’s made for us, how can we ever imagine he’s against us? But I tell you, when I grew up in the Catholic Church, I believed so clearly in a God whose love was conditional. I saw it in the teaching I had in my Catholic church when I was a little boy getting ready for first communion. I heard it in my family. I’ve seen it in friendships. “I love you as long as you are who I want you to be. I love you as long as you do what I ask.” And when you’re in that kind of relationship, your struggle is to figure out what you’re supposed to be, what you're supposed to be doing in the mind of the other person, not in your own mind, but what do they want me to be? Because the greatest pain in life, the greatest fear we have is isolation, and I don’t mean being alone. Sometimes that feels great, but I mean not being connected to anything, not feeling one with anyone or anything.
In a way, when you look at the heart of what it means to be a human being, the connection that is most life-giving is described in one word: love. The ultimate goal of love is never for the beloved to figure out what the lover wants of us and then to adapt who we are into that. I would say, that is the way I spent most of my adult life, understanding love. We have something quite different in the Scriptures, yet it began, it seems, with that image. At times, the God who created the world wanted to destroy it, as we heard last week, and there were times when he felt angry and wanted to reject everyone because of their behavior. We see all that in the Old Testament, yet the Old Testament is such a beautiful work. The way to understand it is to realize that human beings struggle to have a better understanding of who they are, as God reveals to them who they are, and God works with them wherever they are. What works for them so they would understand, maybe the only thing, is that this God reveals to them who they are, and God works with them where they are. So what they would understand, maybe the only thing they would comprehend, is that this God, like other gods, demands that you believe and trust in him, and the way you do that is to do as he asks, to do what he asks you to do. But it’s so fascinating to me that, in that period of time, about the only way someone could understand what God was asking us to be, is to give us a model of how to live, so we have the Ten Commandments. This is the way you relate to God. This is what you do with God. This is what you do and how you relate to humans. So it was as if we had an image of what this life was about, about connecting with God and connecting with yourself and others. Okay, that made sense, but the interesting thing about all that, was it didn’t go to the depth that we were capable of, that we’re capable of now. And so we see an amazing 5,000-year journey, from the time of Abraham until now when we’re looking at who we are as a human race right now, and we’re not the same as we were 20 years ago or 100 years ago or 1,000 years ago. We keep moving, keep changing, keep developing and becoming more who we are intended to be.
So we see, in a way, the conditional relationship we have with God, something I believe was perhaps essential for us to go through, but we can’t stay there. So when you read the story of the call of Abraham, the man who was to be our father in faith, a model of all faith, the most amazing thing about this story is the way in which God made a promise to him that he would have posterity. He would have a son, and that was the truth that God was a God who could be trusted. But in that trust that God invited Abraham to have for him, he took him to a place that seemed beyond imagining. In fact, the interesting thing is we don’t get any sense of Abraham's reaction in the story of what God is asking of him. It’s almost like it’s not about Abraham. It’s about God asking the impossible. “Take the thing I’ve given you that makes you certain I’m there for you and destroy it. The very means I have used to help you trust in me, I want you to let go of those and trust in me when I seem to be absolutely asking you to do the opposite of what you would want, what you would like.” In other words, “Can you put what I ask you to do above every instinct and every longing of your heart?” And he did. He could, and so we get a sense from the very beginning that this relationship with God, even though he shows us, over and over again, the way in which he’s working with us — he’ll give us signs that he’s there for us, but what he really wants is such a committed sense of his presence and his desire to heal and carry us to the place we long to be, so convinced, so strong that nothing that’s happening can shake it. Nothing.
So we begin with an image of what it means to believe. To believe is to go beyond any instinct or logic that might cause you to say to us, “I can’t do this. And the only way you can have that kind of trust and faith is if you believe," as Paul says. There is no conceivable way that this God is not going to bring something into your life or take something away from your life that is in any way, shape going to harm you, but I learned that God didn’t have that commitment. It was as if he said, “I love you, Don,” as a boy, “but if you steal something and you don’t go to confession, then I love you, but I have to put you in hell forever,” when in truth it’s the opposite. “You’ve done something horrible. You’ve done something terrible. You have ruined your life, and my way of looking at you is to say, "You did all that. You fell that far away from the truth, but I love you.’” But I love you, not I love you, but… That conviction is absolutely essential for us to continue this journey with God, and I really feel that I never really believed it until recently.
Now look at the gospel. Jesus is the epitome of a man with that kind of faith. The beauty about Jesus in the New Testament is that we’re looking at someone who’s not giving us an amazing amount of rules and laws to follow. He only says we should love and take care of each other. That’s about as much of the advice he gives, but then he talks about this kingdom that we’re supposed to live in. And what's so fascinating about the New Testament is that Jesus is not so much telling us what we should be, but also showing us, in his life, what we can be. He’s our model. He is the image of what we become when we have an unshakeable faith in this God and we find ourselves connected, unified, at-one-with his intention. His intention is we will live in the truth and find the way to life, and the life we’re called to live is the life of love.
So how does it happen? What are we supposed to look for in order to see if it is happening? What was interesting in this story of the transfiguration? Jesus has already told his disciples, for the first time, that he was not going to be as successful as he had hoped in terms of his work. He was to turn the temple into a place that filled them with life, instead of robbing them of life. He realized that it wasn't going to happen. His awareness that it wasn’t going to happen is very different from his surrendering to it, which was a very wrenching experience that we know of in the Garden of Gethsemane, but still he knew that this was the direction his destiny was going. And so he explains it to them, and they had all kinds of images of being successful, maybe, as Jesus first did. And so he’s preparing them to get ready, for the very result they hoped for, the very outcome they were working for, this wonderful success and power was not going to happen. So it’s as if they were striving for was going to be taken away, not given. Something else would be given, something more powerful, something more amazing.
So what happens is Jesus goes to this mountain, bringing this core group that he was very close to (Peter, James and John), and shows them something. And what he shows them is who they will become when they trust, as Abraham did, and when they are infused with all the gifts that God has promised to give them. And the fundamental gift is truth — truth, the acceptance of what is, acceptance of the plan, acceptance of God’s way of working with us. When we have that, that absolute conviction that everything is working for the good and that we believe and we live in a world that God gave us and we are participating in to the fullest extent that we can, being one with it. When you’re one with the truth, you are light — light and enlightenment. When Jesus was enlightenment, it wasn’t so much what he said. It was who he was and the resonance that came out of him. His miracles are a perfect example of that. What happened to the disciples, when they became filled with the truth of this journey we have with God; they were filled with fire, enthusiasm, light. When Moses talked to God, in the Old Testament, he would come down from the mountain and he would talk to the Israelites, he had to cover his face, because it was so light. It was so filled with light.
It’s so interesting to me that most of my life I’ve thought of the work I have to do to please God was to be as good as I could, in terms of being what he wants me to be, do what he wants me to do, and I saw the church being the source that would tell me what that is. And I’d live a moral life, an ethical life, because they told me how to do that. I didn’t have a sense of what the real journey is, and that’s entering into a place of such surrender to the way, the life that God calls us to live, the way we are invited to be a part of this journey with him. I didn’t see that as the goal, and I didn’t know what it would do to me. And what I see it doing to me now is changing me, and there’s something about me and people like me that are everywhere — that have that truth. There’s a light that comes out of us. It’s something you can’t describe, but it is felt, not other than this feels right or this seems good, this seems healthy, that person seems whole. It’s the light of the truth, which is so incredibly simple. It is simply what is. It is simply the way it’s unfolding, but the key is to know that every piece, every part of it is perfectly timed to give you the wisdom, the enlightenment that the world needs.
Father, free us from the fear that we are not enough, that we somehow fall short of who we need to be for you to love us. Give us the wisdom that comes from a conviction of who you are, seeing you as you are, someone who calls us out of a world of darkness into a beautiful light, and let that awareness of that truth be so much a part of every cell in our body that our body itself becomes light and witnesses your love to the world. And we ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.