Mar. 7, 2020

SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT

God does not take us on a hopeless trip

Readings: 1st- Gen. 12:1-4; 2nd- 2 Tim. 1:8-10; Gospel- Matt. 17:1-9 

The story of Abram looks like a sweet beginning of an experience marked with uncertainty. God calls a man in his old age and commands him to move to a destination unknown to him. The paradox is that Abram is leaving for an unknown place with all the uncertainties in the journey, yet God makes numerous promises to him for his commitment and obedience. Abram’s obedience merits his blessings from God: “I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse.” Isn’t that great? God expands Abram’s frontiers from living for himself to living for others, from being a blessing to himself to being a blessing for others. He becomes a blueprint for future blessings: “All the communities shall find blessing in you” (Gen. 12:4). Walking with the Lord ushers in a future that is filled with blessings. One major lesson here is that God does not take us on a hopeless trip.

The gospel presents the account of the transfiguration of Christ. It is a story filled with images and symbols. The central message is that the identity and mission of Christ are revealed to his disciples by the highlight of an extraordinary newness evident in Christ. Jesus takes Peter, James, and John to the top of the mountain for a purpose. At the mountain, he is transfigured, his face shines like the sun while his clothes radiate an intense brightness. This ushers in the strange figures, Moses and Elijah who enter into a conversation with Jesus. Peter feels good about the experience and pleads to remain there. Peter is also able to identify the Old Testament figures and wishes to make three tents for them and for their Master. Scriptures don’t say what the reaction of Jesus is to Peter’s request, rather, the scene shifts to a more transforming and deeper experience. A bright cloud casts over them, then the voice accompanies it from heaven. This voice bears witness to Jesus as the beloved Son with whom the Father is well pleased and ends with the invitation to the disciples to listen to him. 

At the transfiguration, the apostles seem lost in ecstasy. The theophany (revelation of Jesus’ hidden identity), the appearance of Moses and Elijah, and the voice of the Father are all frightening events. The apostles are afraid. Jesus strengthens them. Moses and Elijah disappear at this point leaving the disciples with Jesus alone. God designed this purpose to bring the disciples to a deeper understanding of the divine nature of Jesus. He uses the presence of Moses and Elijah to point to the reality of Jesus’ mission, “I have come not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them” (Matt. 5:17). Now that the apostles have understood the identity of Jesus, they must face the reality of his mission, “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead” (Matt. 17:9). Every encounter with Jesus brings transformation. Like Abram, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John on a strange journey. Remember, God does not take us on a hopeless trip. 

Paul’s letter to Timothy seems clearer than the gospel and the first reading filled with images and symbols. Paul writes to Timothy about the challenges of Christian life and summons him to bear his own share of hardship for the gospel. Last week, I spent most of my time in one of the hospitals in Baltimore just sitting beside a close family friend who was seriously sick. I watched her scream and turn from one side of the bed to the other. Each time she looks at me, it is as if to ask, “why should all this be happening to me?” As I hold this friend’s hand and pray, I keep reflecting on the meaning of suffering, the meaning of pain. When I walk out to stretch myself in the hospital hallway, the feeling is intensified. I see different categories of patients, some being wheeled on the bed in a semi-conscious position, some being guided and supported by nurses to learn to walk again, others taking a walk by themselves to gauge their recovery. Each has some share of the suffering at that point. What touched me was that any time my friend opened her eyes and saw me beside her, she would utter the words, “Fr., please pray for me. It seems I’m dying.” Thank God she didn’t die. I felt like I was there to remind her that God does not take us on a hopeless trip.

Saint Paul recognizes that each of us would have some experience of the hardship of Christ. He says, “Bear your share…” That means we are only taking a little from the main source of the hardship. Christ is the main source from whom we take our own share. That’s why he says to the apostles in the gospel, “until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” It is not unusual that we experience suffering as human beings. But how do we face it? It comes in different forms and at various times. We experience sickness. We experience loss (house, money, job, pet, human beings). We encounter failures. We witness betrayals. We suffer hurts and pains from abusive relationships. Worse still, we may be attacked for our faith. Paul reminds us today, to bear our own share of the hardship for the sake of our faith. He invites us to feel the strength that comes from God at such times. Have you ever felt the comforting presence of Christ by holding the bible to your chest when you are stressed? Have you ever held the rosary in your hand feeling the warm presence of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the middle of the night when sleep eludes your eyes? Peter, James, and John felt the same way in today’s gospel. They “were very much afraid,” but Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”

While we bear our own share of the hardship, let us remember that Jesus first suffered for us. Let us unite our sufferings with him and ask for his help. Scripture says, “Consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Heb. 12:3-4). God always fills us with his grace, he transforms us. Obviously, you are not alone in your suffering, Jesus is there; He touches you. Like my friend in the hospital, may you find someone holding your hands and bringing God’s warmth to you. It doesn’t matter where you are in the journey, God does not take us on a hopeless trip.