Second Sunday of Lent (B)
March 4, 2012
The readings today are all so rich a separate reflection for each one is in order. But one of the tasks of the homilist is to tie up all three in the light of the bigger mystery that the Catholic liturgy celebrates in all the liturgical seasons, Lent, most especially.
I would like to begin with the obvious – the call to perfect obedience of Abraham, who was not just called to get out of Ur. A train of other calls came his way, from no less than the same God who called him from his ultimate “comfort zone” that was Ur. This time, though, the call pierces through the roof of reason, and asks him to do the unthinkable … that is, sacrifice his very own son Isaac. The fact that he had to go up the mountain definitely was no accident. The very call at this particular instance, is all an uphill climb, much more difficult than his journey through the plains from Ur to the land of promise.
Moriah, the same mountain on which the temple would much later be built, already this early, symbolized what the call from God was meant to be right from the outset … No guts; no glory … No pain; no gain … no cross; no victory! I don’t know about you, but even a celibate like me, with no son of my own, cringes at the thought of a loving, doting father having the unthinkable task of giving up a dearly beloved, just because God said so.
But the first reading is a story of divine benediction. “All because you obeyed my command,” said the Lord, “I will bless you abundantly” … and “all the nations of the earth shall find blessing.”
A first important lesson juts out straight from the first reading. Yes, dear reader, there is a blessing attached to being obedient. Divine benediction awaits the one who is willing to give up all for the sake of the God who calls. Let me tell you a little vignette of a story from my own life. When I was much younger, I never wanted to work in the seminary. Back then, I was doing further studies in Rome and I thought I would get back home with the much coveted three letters after my name, but to work as part-time teacher, and not as formator. But then, my superior called me back home, and told me to cut my dream short. I was needed at the formation house. I needed to get back home in time for the new school year coming. I hemmed. I hawed. I howled in protest for a while. But then obedience had to take primal place. I spent the next ten years of my life where I originally did not want to be … the most productive of my young priestly life. And when it was time to go, I did not want to budge once again. I know I did much. I know I loved every minute of it. I was blessed, because I obeyed!
The prayer that constitutes the response after the first reading applied to me then, when I did not want to budge, when going out of my comfort zone was the most difficult thing to do. But again, the idea of being in pain, being “greatly afflicted,” of having to “offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving,” and of having “to pay vows in the presence of all his people,” – exactly what Abraham did, was attached to an unfolding benediction, a blessing a-blossoming: “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living!”
Right now, I am not in the best of spirits. I am sad for so many reasons, both personal and otherwise. I am again being sorely tested to the core of my deeply ingrained values and beliefs. I am suffering once again, not on account of the wrong things I did, but on account of the convictions I stand for, and in the presence of people who impute bad will to all I do.
Many times, people who suffer innocently, are not just called to receive benedictions and blessings from the Lord. The more important thing they are called to is towards transformation. This, I would like to think, is what the second reading tells us today: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” We are called to renew our minds, and see blessings, including those that hide behind pain and suffering. And what is that ultimate blessing that is powerful enough to lead us to a personal and social transformation? Paul’s answer is unequivocal: “Christ Jesus [who] died, or rather, was raised from death – who also is at the right hand of God, and who indeed intercedes for us.”
But all this that Paul says would have remained mere meaningless words, were it not for the fact that this same Christ Jesus eventually walked his talk, and did what He, too, expects us to do on our own. Mark’s gospel was careful enough to tell us the telling detail – “Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain, apart by themselves.”
We all are in it together. We are all climbing uphill. Life, as I said last week, is not a “walk in the park.” It is a journey upwards. It is a call to benediction, yes … but there won’t be any benediction unless we are also willing to pay a high price, like Abraham did. His blessing, the same blessing we now share in, happened all because “he obeyed.” And that was when transformation happened!
The Lord’s transfiguration did not just happen without sufficient cause or reason. According to biblical commentators, it was all in view of the coming event of his passion, death, and resurrection. It was all, if you will, a prefiguration, a sort of an “advanced notice” of better and more things to come, a sign of what eventually and ultimately, He who became man like us, had come to lead us to – to become God like Him, the ultimate transfiguration and transformation that awaits us all believers and followers.
This is the good news that we need to focus on, even in the midst of all this bad news that surround us. I am personally suffering right now, threatened by certain events I have no control of, a potential victim of misinterpretation and rash judgment. In my desire to educate and form young people under my care, I incur the ire of certain personalities who don’t want things changed, who would not hear of leaving their own comfort zones, and who desire at all cost, to maintain the status quo.
I am one, too, with the whole Filipino people, now caught up once again in so much strife and disunity, mainly in the political arena. For the nth time, the ugly monster called partisan politics of personages and personalities is rearing its despicable head, as forces are realigning in view of next year’s elections. In the process, some individuals, and certain concerns that have to do with the common good, are waylaid, or destroyed, as collateral damage. We are back where we were prior to the February peaceful revolution of 1986.
The lesson seems clear from the gospel today. Yes, we are called to benediction. And yes! We are called to transformation. And Jesus’ transfiguration shows us two things: first, we, too are called to the same glory, courtesy of his passion, death, and resurrection. Second, we need to first go up the high mountain, and go down from the mountain of meeting, the mountain of glory, the mountain where even the three disciples wanted to build tents and stay therein.
For blessings to become actual and meaningful, for our own transfiguration to become real and personal, we need to go down the mountain, and live where God wants us to, to bloom where we are planted, and believe in His promise: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”