Second Sunday of Lent A: Reflections by Fr. Michael U. Udoekpo
Readings: Gen 12:1-4a; Ps 33:4-5, 18-20, 22; 2 Tm 1:8b-10 and Matt 17:1-9
From the Mountain top to the Cross
Our Sunday Readings during Lent are chosen to enable us appreciate our salvation history as planned by God. Plans and promises, divine as they are, began from creation to Abraham (Gen 12:1-4a) and came to be fulfilled in Christ. Last Sunday Matthew (Matt 4:1-11) and Paul (Rom 5:12-19) presented Christ to us as a new Adam and a new Israel, loyal and obedient to God. Jesus the new Israel overcame temptations and trials whereas Israel of old was not. This Sunday He is the Son of God, the teacher of the suffering discipleship whose ultimate destiny is the glory of the Cross. We must listen to him.
In the context of Jesus’ journey to the Cross in Jerusalem the narrative of transfiguration (Matt 17:1-9) reminds us that the theology of glory and the theology of the cross are inseparable friends. Thus Abraham, Christ and Paul are models for us on how to journey to God in faith, obedience and perseverance amidst temptations, trials and the “crosses” of this life, particularly in this season of Lent.
The lessons of the call of Abraham from Southern Mesopotamia, (modern Kuwait) and his covenant with God in the first reading brings us back to the ABC of our faith journeys. He was called by God to “go forth” ( ^±l.-%l) – imperatively, for an essential mission, to be the founder of God’s people. Abraham put himself on the way obediently to the unknown of God’s plan for him. Naturally, such a total response to God’s command would come with great sacrifices “crosses” of detachment, changes and adjustment to a new life situation and new people on the pilgrim way. Abraham is promised unconditional “mountains” of great nation, a great name, protection and blessings of all families through him. All he needed in his part to do was embrace those changes, living faithfully those crosses of detachment, listening to God’s command, and adapting to a new life situation. Remember, Abraham on his journeys would also have to bear the burdens of other trials and “crosses” of the barrenness of Sarah (Gen 11:31; 16ff), the threats of Pharaoh (Gen 12:10-20) over his beautiful wife, Sarah and the testing of what to do with his son Isaac (Gen 22).
From Abraham down -our human existence has always been a journey towards God. It is not a journey of roses or greatness alone without trials and crosses. This may also be part of the lessons Christ’s suffering journeys to Jerusalem and his glorious shining face on Tabor transfiguration are meant to communicate to us.
First of all, prior to this journey and his transfiguration on Tabor/Hermon, Jesus had just announced his suffering - death as well as the cost of being a true disciple when he says,
“Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself (herself), take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it….Amen I say to you there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his Kingdom”(Matt 16:24-28; cf Mk 9:1; Lk 9:28-36).
For the Apostles this was not good news. They were saddened and dismayed by this Lenten announcement of sufferings and the idea of going to the cross. Jesus knows how to handle their sadness with prayers. He brought along to Tabor, Peter, James and John.
Being on this mountain, is spirit elevated and gives one an over-view of the proximate environment, with refreshing oxygen. It is hard to forget that February 7, 2010 during our trip to the Holy Land sponsored by the Berrie foundation from Rome. After our 9 am Mass in Tabgha on the shore of the sea of Galilee we visited the Annunciation Church at Nazareth, the town where Jesus was raised, now Israel’s Arab largest city and home for both Christians and Muslims. We had a good lunch at Diana Restaurant, down town, by 2:30 pm, and then we drove up to the mountain top of Tabor about 1848 feet.
Personally, it was a little scary, looking down the curving roads that led busses and cars to this biblical mountain top. But it was also a wonderful experience viewing the Jezreel valley and the hills of Galilee from here. It gave me the serenity and a sense of divine presence, the wonders of nature, confirming the scriptural designation of mountains as places for God theophanies. Today there is a Franciscan Basilica, which was erected in the early 20th century on the remains of the older churches. Apart from biblical tradition, there is a Mosaic inside this Church that portrays this miraculous event of Transfiguration or transformation (metemorfw,qh/metamorfoomai) of Jesus witnessed by Peter, James and John.
These three saw the joy and the happiness of God in Jesus, the dazzling cloths and his shining face. Through his vision of the glory of the Lord (see Rom 12:2 and 2 Cor 3:18), Paul uses this same verb “transformation/change” when he wants to stress the importance of spiritual renewal and change of hearts, expected of all Christian person, especially at this important season of Lent.
Significantly, the glorious and the shining face of Jesus, flanked by Moses and Elijah, the Law and the Prophets had the power of putting smiles on the faces of the once dismayed Apostles, “from the mountain top to the journey to the cross in Jerusalem. No more thought of pains and trials. Peter even made a quick proposal for a tent’s construction, one for Christ, one for Moses and one for Elijah. He is rather advised to listen to Christ, the beloved Son of God whom the Father is well pleased (Matt17:9). He heard this earlier in Matthew 3:17, during the baptism of Christ. This confirms that Christ is not only the Son God at Baptism. He is also the son of God during his ministry of love, healing mercies, sermon on the mountains, and during his journey to Calvary. The challenge for Peter and his friends thousands of years ago are sometimes our challenges today. How do we move beyond Tabor, the temporary or earthly joy we are familiar with to follow the path of the suffering discipleship of Christ with the hope of heavenly joy, awaiting us. How can I accept the fact that belonging to Christ Jesus is not immunity from stress, betrayals, illnesses and disappointments and even the loss of someone we loved?
St. Paul, a former civil attorney, and a persecutor of Christians would ironically come to suffer multiple persecutions for the sake of the gospel. Transformed, he knew how to use his gifts, spiritual and civil for the sacred journey of the Cross. He was beaten, ship wrecked and thrown into prisons few times. He lived and preached the cost of Christ’s discipleship in his missionary journeys. To Timothy today, he turns to say, “Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strengths that comes from God.” (2 Tim 1:8-10).
We need God’s strength always to live our Christian faith in every liturgical Season. Lent offers us another unique opportunity. It is a moment for a renewed reflection on the meaning of the suffering discipleship; the place of the cross of Christ as a source of our redemption and salvation.
We know this cross comes to us in different ways. They are there in the daily events of life, at homes, schools, offices and factories and in parish ministries. We see them in the violence on our TV scenes and in sport fields. We see them in the unconscious selfishness, self-driven agendas, envy and sometimes in the laziness of untransformed nature of the human persons. They are found in illnesses, economic disasters, in denial others political freedom and in acts of injustices in our contemporary world.
As we journey through Lenten discipline, listening to Christ let us pray for the grace to embrace our daily crosses as a foretaste of the mountain top of Tabor and of the joy of the resurrection of Christ at Easter.