Homily for the Second Sunday of Lent, Year C 2019
Whenever God wants to do anything significant, He first chooses a person or a people. His choices are always a surprise. They defy our imagination and expectations. He chooses the unqualified and qualifies them for a specific assignment and for a certain duration. We find this evident in Biblical figures like Abraham, Paul etc. and He still does the same even in our contemporary era. The second thing God does is “to call out” – “Ekklesia” those He has chosen.
The word Ekklesia is the Greek word for Church. But originally it means “to call out”. So, God calls the chosen from their realities into His own reality, where He forms them and equips them for His purposes. Often, the reality He calls us from is messy. He calls us at our worst or at our rock bottom. Abram in our First Reading from Genesis 15; 5-12, 17-18, is a good example. The immediate context of the reading Genesis 15: 1-4; 13-16 reveals Abram was battling.
God had made Abram a promise in Genesis 12, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you…” But Abram couldn’t reconcile God’s promise with the reality of his infertility. He couldn’t also reconcile God’s promise of a land with the reality that he was a wandering Aramaean. Finally, Abram struggled with God’s promise of His protective presence. So, one could say Abram was at his breaking point. He was at a point of deep interior conflict.
Similarly, when we read the Second Reading from Philippians 3:20-4:1 in its immediate context, we will appreciate the state of the Philippians. They were Romans citizens. They prided themselves on the protection and governance of Rome. Caesar has met their basic needs, they were comfortable. The scenarios may be likened to the narrative of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World – “meet their basic needs, they will forget God and set their mind on this world”.
In the same vein, the Gospel Reading from Luke 9: 28-36, when it is read in its remote and proximate contexts, describes the anxiety, the discouragement the disciples felt before the text of today’s Gospel. They had just been told by Peter that Jesus is the Messiah, which for them was good news. But that news was short lived as Jesus revealed the mission and the destiny of the Messiah. “The Son of Man – Jesus must suffer greatly and be rejected…” Luke 9:22.
In a nutshell, God called Abram out of his interior conflicts to the experience of the wonder of His creation. He entered a covenant with Abram; committing Himself to fulfil the promises He had made to Abram. In the Second Reading, Paul called the Philippians out of their idolatry to the reality of their true homeland and presented Christ as their Saviour. Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus called His disciple out of their discouragement to witness the Glory of God.
There is no doubt, God is calling us today. He is calling you and me out of our own realities. It may be one of the realities we have just heard, or it may be a totally unique reality. Perhaps, it is a reality you are ashamed of, an experience that saddens you. You have cried and prayed, and nothing seems to change. Don’t give up. Remember, Abram took his struggles to God in prayer. And Jesus took the disciples with Him up to the mountain to pray. Keep praying!
Luke purposely makes the Transfiguration the fruit of prayer. “As He prayed, the aspect of His face changed, and His clothing became brilliant as lightning”. Now, the point which is often overlooked is the clause “As He prayed”. This suggests process. It means prayer is a school for change. That in prayer, we bring our true selves, all our joys and troubles and through prayer, we encounter the God, who gathers us, forms us with His hands, breathes His life into us.
By doing this, Luke is presenting Christ as skilling His disciples or equipping them for the mission ahead. It is a mission in which they must carry their own crosses and follow Him. For they “can’t take Christ as their Messiah without the Cross; that will be a delusion. Neither can they take the Cross without Christ; that will lead them to despair”. So, the Transfiguration is the hope for the bearer of the Cross. It is God’s promise to those who will carry it to the end.
This accounts for the appearance of Moses and Elijah. They are brought into the story of the Transfiguration as a testimony to God keeping His promises. For all we know, these men suffered too. Moses for instance suffered from personal weaknesses and failures. Elijah was crossed by the powers that be. But both men remained faithful to God. They didn’t give up on their prophetic calling, but constantly turned to God in prayer, seeking meaning and purpose.
But there is something more to the story of the Transfiguration. We find Peter like the Philippians settling for the signs. The Philippians focused on the Realised Eschatology to the extent that they ignored the Not-Yet Eschatology, or what the Realised points to. This is the pitfall of contemporary society. We are so caught up with the beauty of creation that we totally ignore or reject the God of creation. We have become victims rather than stewards of creation.
So, the disappearance of Moses and Elijah and “the voice that came from the cloud” remind us of the Not-Yet. It calls us to see the good things of this world as mysteries that bombard us and reveal something much more than what we see, touch and feel. Thus, we must listen to Jesus and follow Him to “Jerusalem”, where like Him, we will be humiliated, rejected and die on the Cross. In doing this, we must not forget Exodus – that God will deliver us. He has the Last Word.
Fr. Francis Afu