2nd Sunday of Lent (C)
February 28, 2010
Profligate generosity is more like it … the utter generosity of one who makes and fulfills promises to Abraham and His people – land in plenty and offspring in abundance: “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so shall your descendants be.” Generosity upon gracious generosity … this is what the texts these first two Sundays of Lent seem to give us for reflection. Last Sunday, we saw the generosity of Christ, whose “fidelity on three counts” equal to the threefold temptations, was shown in his remaining steadfast. True to the spirit of Deuteronomy, his fidelity was equivalent to his being offered like the required “first fruits of the harvest” – understood as the best, and the most precious and valued.
In return, God, very clearly, will settle for nothing but the best – the best in return for our best, our “first fruits,” our utmost self-offering. Abraham definitely got more than he ever dreamed of. From being a wanderer, he was called from Ur, to be the “father of many nations” and to be the head of God’s chosen people. His generosity was met with even greater generosity: “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates.”
And we thought that by giving up carbs or carved meat, as the case may be, on Lenten Fridays, was already such a big deal!
Today, God calls us to “higher grounds” and invites us to elevate our thoughts just as Peter, James and John were called to be with Jesus up the mountain of transfiguration. The three, who were willing to give up restful sleep at night and trek up the mountain to pray along with their Master and Lord, were greatly rewarded. In God’s “business enterprise,” no one gets short changed; no one is left holding the shorter end of the stick; no one goes away holding an empty bag. In God’s relational world, no one who loves is spurned; no one who offers self is ignored; and no one who “gives up brothers and sisters, mother and father” will be denied his “hundredfold.”
Abraham’s readiness and obedience of faith was rewarded handsomely: “Abram put his faith in the Lord who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” By his obedience, Abraham entered into the divine realm of “right relationships.” Relationships, even from the human plane, always have to do with mutuality, with reciprocity, with an attitude of give-and-take. Peter’s and the disciples’ readiness and openness to an intimate experience with their Master communing in prayer up the mountain, was similarly rewarded with a vision – “what no eye has seen nor ear heard.” Right relationship with God is definitely one of gracious and generous mutuality, in the context of a deeply intimate and personal experience of the Divine Giver’s awesome presence offering His own “first fruit,” His own only-begotten Son to us and the whole world: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
Generosity is hard to come by these days. Just look at us … We find it hard to part with stuff. What else is behind the booming business of public storages? What fuels the demand for bigger and bigger houses? Food servings are getting bigger and bigger and calories per serving are getting more and more. The cumulative increase in everything we want to have is matched only by our greatly increased appetites and desires for the more and the better all the time. Ever wondered why “used car” sales abound everywhere? What passes at times for generosity, may well be nothing more than a desire to make more room for whatever better, newer, and more fashionable is coming our way via those appealing glossy catalogues! Generosity is hard to come by as we jostle and elbow our way figuratively in a perpetual rush to get to our goals and destinations. The (rat) race is on just as soon as we start munching on our “breakfast on the go.”
Years ago, we were told that Lent is some kind of a protracted retreat, a time for reflection, which hopefully will graduate into prayer. That old traditional ascetical and spiritual practice, we were further told, was designed to make us more open, and more available to God and others, whether through prayer, or through almsgiving or doing some other corporal or spiritual works of mercy. Lent was a time to take stock of our lives and see whether it is leading us towards that which every baptized Christian is called to – a life of holiness and union with God.
That was what Lent meant and what Lent still ought to mean for us.
Let us digress a bit at this juncture and see what St. Paul has to add to these thoughts. Very practical and very concrete, Paul speaks of “two roads that diverge in the yellow woods” of life, to quote Robert Frost rather freely: the path “according to the model you have in us,” that is, the path of righteousness, and its opposite, the path of “destruction.” Take your pick … The path of destruction is associated with phrases like, “enemies of the cross of Christ;” “their end is destruction;” “their god is their stomach;” their glory is their shame;” and “occupied with earthly matters.” The path of righteousness has to do with such phrases like “faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ;” “awaiting the coming of the Savior;” “their lowly body is transformed;” “share in Christ’s glory;” and “citizenship in heaven.”
In God’s scheme of things, what you give is not what you get. No, when you give, you get much more. In God’s righteousness and relational nature, the supreme law is “grace upon grace,” life in place of death, glory in the place of suffering. In the old and trite language we often heard before, it all boils down to this: God can never be outdone in generosity.
Robert Frost’s lovely poem could stand a bit of reflection and revisiting in connection with our lives as “pilgrims” in this “valley of tears.” “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood …” While the choice between one or the other may not be exactly like what Frost envisioned as a choice between two equally good, or at least, indifferent things, all the same, our choice between the path of righteousness and the path of wickedness makes a whole lot of difference for ourselves and others. To paraphrase Frost freely, “too bad we cannot take both.” We simply have to make a choice between one and the other.
To go back to where we started, it would help us to remember that someone made a choice that spelled a whole lot of difference for countless generations. Abraham generously offered himself when he answered the call of God. Paul also, albeit belatedly, assumed his role as evangelizer and committed disciple, becoming “all things to all men, in the hope of saving some of them.” Peter and the other disciples who saw the Lord in glory up the mountain eventually went down their mountain of meeting and did what was told them in the plains. God gave them a vision no man could ever dream of, nor imagine. His Son was transfigured in their presence.
The Lenten discipline is not unlike Abraham’s leaving familiar and comfortable Ur; not unlike Paul’s going down from his high horse and being subjected to further education in Damascus; not unlike Peter, James and John’s making a difficult trek up the mountain – all for the sake of God, all in search for intimacy with God, all with the goal in mind of seeing the face of God. By following the road of righteousness, they were given much more than they ever searched for. They saw a lot more than they ever expected.
They were all rewarded by God and His profligate generosity!
There is no denying that the path of righteousness and the journey up our own “mountains” are fraught with a lot of trials and difficulties. The consolations of God may often be miles apart from the God of consolation. In moments when we feel His justice does not seem to be forthcoming, it is good for us to take to heart the words of the psalmist in today’s response: “I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.”