Second Sunday in Lent
The Book of Genesis is the source of the first reading. It is a story about Abraham, whom the Jews regard as the father of their race. In addition, seeing Abraham as the spiritual father of all who know and honor the one God, he is a special figure in the religious traditions of Christians and Muslims.
Scholars believe that Abraham was an actual person. He is not the figment of imagination, nor a figure constructed in some literary effort. He was an actual person.
Several points are important in hearing, or reading, this passage. The first is that God communicated with Abraham, and God is in Abraham’s world, but God is above and beyond Abraham’s world. Accordingly, Abraham did not relate to God as if God were an equal.
With command over nature and the living beings of nature, God ordered Abraham to capture animals and then sacrifice them.
Since the animals that Abraham captured were sacred, as they were intended for sacrifice to praise God, Abraham protected them from being taken by birds of prey. It is not as if birds of prey were inherently evil, although Jewish tradition later would proscribe eating the flesh of any bird of prey or any other predator. They simply were victims of their own instincts.
Abraham himself was vulnerable. Darkness overtook him. The sun set. He was terrified, but God provided and protected.
The second reading is from the Epistle to the Philippians. Philippi was a city, Greek by background, with a name honoring the father of Alexander the Great, in which a Christian community had formed.
Paul wrote to these early Christians to direct and encourage them. He taught them about Jesus. He challenged them to be more loyal and fervent disciples.
In this reading, St. Paul said that human beings are imperfect, even without their willful sinning. Ignorance and confusion are part of being human.
Even if unseen by human eyes, Christ elevates believers. His power gives them insight. His love gives them life. In response, they must acknowledge God.
St. Luke’s Gospel provides the story of the Transfiguration, a story found also in Mark and Matthew.
The story is brilliant and powerful. Peter, James and John were with Jesus. They interacted with Jesus. They certainly saw the human characteristics of Jesus, but in this situation, they saw the divinity of Jesus. The Lord showed them this divinity.
Strong symbols from Hebrew tradition conveyed the reality of this divine identity. God spoke from a cloud. Gleaming light surrounded Jesus.
On either side of Jesus were the prophets Moses and Elijah.
God loved Peter, James and John. He blessed them, but they never truly saw Jesus until the Transfiguration.
Austrians have a charming story of their legendary Empress Elisabeth (1837-1898), wife of Emperor Franz Josef. Once, privately, she visited a tiny alpine village. Rumors circulated. People heard that she was in town.
A little girl, who lived with her grandmother because her parents were dead, was at a toy shop window when two strangers approached, both women.
One of them spoke to her. The girl explained that she was in town, hoping to see the empress, but she came often to look at the doll in the window. Her grandmother was too poor to buy it for her.
The woman nodded to her companion, who went inside and returned with the doll. The woman gave it to the little girl. Thrilled, but curious, the girl asked, “What should I tell my grandmother?”
The bestower of the gift said, “Tell her that you saw the empress, and that the empress kissed you.”
We cannot see God, but the Transfiguration reminds us that God is with us, loves us, and gives us the precious gift of Jesus.
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