February 19, 2016

Second Sunday of Lent / Msgr. Owen F. Campion

The Sunday Readings

Msgr. Owen CampionThe Book of Genesis is the source of the first reading. It is a story about Abraham, whom the Jews regard as the father of their race. In addition, Abraham is seen as the spiritual father of all who know and honor the one God. Hence, he is a special figure in the religious traditions of Christians and Muslims.

Scholars believe that Abraham was an actual person, not the figment of imagination or a figure constructed in some literary effort.

Several points are important in hearing or reading this passage. First, God communicates with Abraham. He is in, but also above and beyond, Abraham’s world. God is no human’s peer. People do not relate to God as if he were an equal. Nevertheless, he is present and interacts with them.

God has command over nature and the living beings of nature. God can order Abraham to capture animals and then to sacrifice them. Since the animals that Abraham captured were sacred, as they were intended for sacrifice to praise God, Abraham protected them from being taken by birds of prey. It is not as if birds of prey were inherently evil, although Jewish tradition later would proscribe eating the flesh of any bird of prey, or any other predator. Rather, they simply were victims of their own instincts and unaware of the most important of all realities, that God is and is merciful.

Abraham himself is vulnerable. Darkness overtakes him. The sun sets. He is terrified. Without God, he is at risk, powerless before the elements, helpless before whatever might come.

The second reading is from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. Philippi was a city Greek by background, its name honoring the father of Alexander the Great. It was home to a Christian community.

Paul wrote to these early Christians to give them direction and encouragement. He expanded their knowledge of Jesus. He challenged them to be more loyal and fervent disciples.

In this reading, St. Paul says that human beings are imperfect, even more so with their willful sinning. Human bodies are “lowly” or limited, subject to death (Phil 3:21). Christ elevates and restores humans. In Jesus, human beings never die if they earnestly follow the Lord.

St. Luke’s Gospel provides the last reading. It is Luke’s story of the Transfiguration, a story found also in Mark and Matthew.

The story is brilliant and powerful. As is so often the case in New Testament accounts, Apostles are with Jesus at a very important moment. In this case, Peter, James and John accompany Jesus. The Apostles knew Jesus. They interacted with him. They certainly saw his human characteristics.

The transfiguration gave them a clear vision of Jesus’ divinity. The Lord showed them this divinity. On their own, being only human, they only saw hints of it through Jesus’ miracles, but did not understand it. Strong symbols from Hebrew tradition conveyed the reality of this divine identity. God spoke from a cloud. Gleaming light surrounded Jesus.

Jesus was fully in the tradition of God’s relating to and with people. On either side of Jesus were the prophets Moses and Elijah.

Reflection

As we progress in Lent, the Church offers us several important lessons intended to strengthen us in our Lenten resolve, and ultimately in our Christian commitment.

First, we are not almighty or all-knowing. We are humans. Second, in our human limitation we are shortsighted, even blind very often. Third, we all will die. Fourth, God loves us with a love shown to Abraham and the prophets. He loves us in Jesus, his Son. Jesus is our only hope. He is our only access to true and eternal life.

Using Lent better to relate to Jesus is worth every effort. †

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