Second Sunday of Lent
The Book of Genesis is the source of this weekend’s first biblical reading. As its name implies, Genesis reveals the divine origin of life and the divine plan in the forming of the Hebrew race.
First and foremost, Genesis is a splendidly vivid revelation of God’s majesty and power, but also of the dignity of humanity and purpose of life. It is a great pity that this marvelous book has been so tortured and misconstrued by well-meaning but uninformed readers over the years. The message of Genesis is not about the details of how creation occurred.
This weekend’s reading is about Abraham. Considered by scholars to have been an actual person and not a myth, Abraham is regarded as the father of the Jewish people.
The reading makes several points, including that God is active in human affairs; and that God communicates with humans, and they with God.
Abraham has very strong faith. God rewards this faith by pledging that Abraham’s descendants, until the end of time, will be God’s special people. It is not a dignity conferred without obligation. Descendants of Abraham must be loyal to God and, by their lives of faith, reveal God to the world.
For its second reading, this weekend’s liturgy presents a passage from the Second Epistle to Timothy.
Timothy was a disciple of Paul. The church venerates Timothy as a great saint, very important in the formation of Christianity. According to the New Testament, Timothy was the son of a pagan father and a devout Jewish mother. He was Paul’s secretary at one point and once was imprisoned with Paul, although eventually released. Tradition is that Timothy was the first bishop of Ephesus, then a major city. Its present ruins lie on the Mediterranean coast of modern Turkey.
This reading encourages Timothy to be strong in his Christian belief despite difficulties and obstacles.
St. Matthew’s Gospel furnishes the last reading. It is the story of the Transfiguration, ablaze with symbols of God with which any Jew instantly would have been familiar, as these images appear throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. In these Scriptures, brilliant light, mountaintops and pure white all symbolized God. Finally, surrounding Jesus were Moses and Elijah, the great heroes of the Hebrew religious tradition.
This scene utterly contrasts with that of Calvary. Instead of shimmering clothes, Jesus is crucified after being stripped of his garments. Instead of glowing clouds and brilliant light, gloom and darkness surround the cross.
Lent is little more than one week along, and already the church is encouraging us and reinforcing our faith, just as Jesus strengthened the faith of the Apostles who stood trembling and in dismay before the divine sight manifested on the mountain.
The message is clear. Jesus is God, active and present among us.
To be personally saved, however, we must believe, and in our belief we must commit our very lives to Christ. So, Abraham is critically a part of this weekend’s lesson as an example.
Nowhere in these readings is any account of the crucifixion, no reference to Calvary. Nevertheless, the event of the Lord’s death on the cross is essential to understanding fully this weekend’s message.
Calvary represents the world. It was for a moment, seemingly, the triumph of earthly power and human sin over good. Certainly the enemies of Jesus saw the crucifixion as their victory. Jesus died, but then came the wonder of Easter.
Every human being can be tricked into assuming that earthly things, or earthly satisfaction, will bring them reward. Instead of reward, sinning brings death. All around it is gloom and darkness.
So, the church counsels, have faith, see beyond the gloom, rejoice in the light of Jesus. Remember the Transfiguration and remember Abraham, our model of absolute faith. Remember the true reward in life.
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