We prepare to celebrate the liturgy for this Second Sunday in Lent by reflecting upon how difficult it is to trust promises. We pray for the freedom of Abram to listen, respond, and move on. Leaving is a bit easier when you know exactly to where you are going. We pray for the grace to enter the adventures of our tomorrows, because we have seen God’s fidelity in our yesterday’s. It is always with us, “God, what have you do for us tomorrow?”
We pray as well to trust the mystery of the presence of Jesus in those things of our lives we can see almost. Where the sight of our eyes and our minds fail, there is the vision of faith and God’s call is accompanied by God’s fidelity to assist ours.
I was speaking with a lad here today about faith. He said he did not have any, because he just didn’t know if there were a God “and all that”. After talking awhile he said that he was surprised that by doubting the existence of God he actually was being some kind of believer. “It takes as much faith to believe that there is no God as it does to believe that there is.” Disenchantment with life, Church, family, personality, all these can make believing not feel like it once did.
He left saying he had some things about which to ponder. I told him that is exactly what prayer is and what it meant to be a thinking person at a Jesuit University. He left my office in some ways the same way Abram left his homeland and kinsfolk. Abram, as we read from the Book of Genesis, is called from somewhere, inside him I suspect, to get up and go somewhere else and for this he will get a great prize. He did respond in something called faith and won the prize of life.
Land possession and family fertility were signs of God’s blessings. Abram was called to let his material blessings go and walk into a future of mysteries. He will be asked to trust the Divine Promise-Maker again when he and his wife, Sarah are promised a child and again when he asked to sacrifice this same child on a burning altar. For his trusting, God will bless his descendants with fertility of their own if they but believe in the same way as Abram.
In today’s Gospel, three young men go up a mountain with Jesus whom they have grown to know as friend. They return down the mountain, men called to believe what they think they saw. Jesus reveals Himself as more than friend. They see Him talking with Moses, whom Matthew places as a representative of the law, and Elijah who represents the tradition of the prophets. Their friend, they see, is keeping pretty good company. They see their friend in a different light, a light so strong that it baffles the senses. They hear words which challenge their knowledge. They have known Him in one way and now they are being asked to give up that familiarity and move to a “out-of-sight” relationship involving not knowing, not seeing, but listening and walking back down the mountain in faith.
Abram left his familiar relationship with God through the land. The three apostles had to relate with Jesus by trusting in what happened when their friend was transfigured into their Lord. Lent is calling each of us to embrace the familiar for what it is, a blessing. We are being called also to embrace the unfamiliar for what it is, a blessing as well. We love the security of the known and can hug it, possess it and make it our own, our identity, our little god. We can relate habitually with the same ideas, friends, places, and no longer experience them as the blessing-gifts they were meant always to be.
I have a Jesuit friend who eats only French Vanilla ice cream. He says that when something is perfect, any change is an imperfection. Fortunately for us, he lives faithfully the imperfections of change within and around him.
The Jesus of our younger days, as with the three mountain-climbers of today’s Gospel, changes. Maturity involves seeing former things, persons, ideas, differently as we advance. My father, God rest him, would argue passionately for the concepts and beliefs of his earlier years. “Would Sister Phillip lie to me?”, he would say to end any discussion on the existence of hell, heaven, grace, Trinity or anything else he had once-and-for-all learned fifty years earlier. He believed and that was that! He was blest for sure, that was obvious. His beliefs allowed him to live the known and trust the God Whom Sister Phillip, God rest her too, had revealed to the very little Larry Gillick.
Perhaps the three companions of Jesus could never explain what had happened “up there”. They were learning to walk with Jesus with their human doubts about Him and themselves. The big thing is they did walk into their futures less confined by the human demand to know and explain perfectly. I tell those I prepare for marriage, that if they can explain clearly and perfectly why they love each other, then I have less trust in their love. Love, like faith, is a real leap across the confinement of facts. The three transfixed-followers witnessed the Transfiguration which was a change of the perfect which was not an imperfection. They hadn’t seen perfectly, could not explain it perfectly, what they saw did not make them perfect, but they walked back down the mountain to continue their journey with Jesus more on the level of faith. We believe, because we kind of understand. Like love, we go deeper into it so we can find out our security is, in the fact of Jesus, more than the facts about Him.
“This is my son, my beloved,
in whom is all my delight: listen to him.” Matt. 17, 5
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