2nd Sunday in Lent
The Book of Genesis is the source of the first reading. The central figure is Abraham, who is highly important to understanding the Hebrew sense of self-identity, and to the unfolding of salvation itself. Jews regard Abraham to have been the father of their people. It is not that he just was an ancestor in human biological terms. He solidified within the Hebrew concept of nationhood the notion of faith in God and loyalty to God. Indeed, Abraham is regarded as the great exemplar of faith.
Obliquely referring to Abraham’s faith, and to the course of salvation, Pope Pius XI said that Christians essentially are Semites, descendants of Abraham in a spiritual sense. He is a special figure in the religious traditions of 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 actually lived.
In this reading, God communicates with Abraham. So, God is in Abraham’s world, but God is above and beyond Abraham’s world. Therefore, Abraham does not relate to God as if God were an equal.
God has command over nature and the living beings of nature. God can order Abraham to capture animals and then to 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. Rather, they simply were victims of their own instincts and unaware of the most important of all realities, that God is and that God lives.
Abraham himself is vulnerable. Darkness overtakes him. The sun sets. He is terrified. Without God, he is at risk, powerless before the elements, helpless before whatever might come.
The second reading is from the Epistle to the Philippians. Philippi was one of those cities, Greek by background, its 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 by deepening their knowledge of Jesus. He insists that human beings are imperfect, even without their willful sinning. Human bodies are “lowly,” he declares. Christ elevates and restores humans. In Jesus, by the grace of God, human beings never die if they earnestly follow the Lord.
St. Luke’s Gospel provides the last reading. It is Luke’s story of the Transfiguration, a story found also in Mark and Matthew.
Brilliant and powerful, the story tells that the Apostles Peter, James, and John were with Jesus at a very important moment. In this case, were with Jesus. They certainly saw the humanity of Jesus. Yet in this situation, they saw the divinity of Jesus. The Lord showed them this divinity. On their own, they were unable to see it. Strong symbols from Hebrew tradition conveyed the reality of this divine identity. God spoke from a cloud. Gleaming light surrounded Jesus.
Finally, Jesus was the tradition of salvation. On either side of Jesus were the prophets Moses and Elijah.
As we progress in Lent, the Church offers us several important lessons. First, as humans, we are limited. Second, in our human limitation we are shortsighted. Third, we all shall die. Finally, we are promised life, in Jesus, the Son of God. Jesus is our only hope. He is our only access to true and eternal life.
Jesus does not trap us into union with God. We must turn to God. Abraham is our model. Jesus is the key. This process of facing facts, of conversion, and of turning totally to Christ is the purpose of Lent.
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