Second Sunday of Lent: 3-12-17
Peace be with You,
Last weekend, as we celebrated the First Sunday of Lent, two stories of temptation framed our lesson. The first the story of Adam and Eve’s being tempted by the serpent (Satan) in the Garden of Eden, leading to the Fall, i.e. the human family being separated from a life of easy communion with God. With this story we were reminded that the human family was in need of a remedy to repair its broken relationship with its Creator; in short, this story was meant to remind us that we are in need of a Savior. Then, in the Gospel reading we heard of Jesus squaring off with the Devil in the desert. In speaking of the two readings we took special care to highlight the thematic parallels of the two stories in order to note how, in his life, Jesus enters into the broken situation of the human family and lives it in a corrective mode; i.e. one that is obedient to the way God has created things vis a vis how Adam and Eve turned away from that basis of reality; precisely in order that we might experience healing in every aspect of our lives. This weekend this theme is once again emphasized while providing us with additional information as to just how this Savior intends to repair the broken situation the human family finds itself in and what the product of such repair will look like.
We have spoken in the past about how it is imperative for Christians to understand the story of the People of Israel, as told in the Old Testament, as our story; for, if we don’t understand the story of the People of Israel there is no way we will understand our story, our lives as sons and daughters of the God who made us and who desires to be one with us. Our first reading for today from the Book of Genesis is a good reminder of this necessity. This story follows closely on the heels of the story of the Tower of Babel, where the human family conspired amongst themselves saying: “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves; otherwise we shall be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (Genesis 11:4, my emphasis).
Notice here both the good and bad inclinations at war within the human family and their faulty solution. With regard to the former, they realize that as surely as they live, they will die and thus, heeding the natural intuition that we are not created for death, but for life, they seek a means of attaining life; of attaining immortality. That this is the case is noted in that they desire to “make a name for themselves;” for they desire to be a presence that does not fade from memory, and in that they desire not to be scattered throughout the earth, consigned to a life of wandering obscurity. Notice please that the error being committed by the human family here is the same error committed by Adam and Eve, who gave into the temptation to seize life for themselves apart from God (Gen 3:4-6). Moreover, notice that it is the same error we constantly fall victim to numerous times a day; we simply want to be known, we desire fame, and if not fame at least to make a lasting impression upon history; and this of itself is not bad, the point is that we have nothing to give apart from God. We saw this last week when the Devil tempted Jesus with the power to control all the kingdoms of the world, to which Jesus responded echoing Deuteronomy 6:13 “You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve” (Matt. 4:10). In short, the only way to “make a lasting name for ourselves” is to have it inscribed where “neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20); i.e. on the very heart of God. How do we this? Abram provides us with the answer.
We first hear of Abram in the genealogy of Shem, the son of Noah (Gen. 11:26), which continues the “book of the generations of Adam,” that began in Genesis 5:1-32 before being interrupted by the story of human wickedness and the flood, and which was then picked up again at the end of the flood story in verses 9:28-29, and then traced through Shem in 10:21-32 before briefly being interrupted by the story of the Tower of Babel and again picked up in 11:10. In tracing the genealogy of the human family from Adam to Abram, the sacred author reminds us that Abram comes from the same fallen and broken human family that caused the flood and built the Tower of Babel. And yet, like Noah before him, who likewise comes from the same broken human family, Abram acts differently.
Keeping in mind what the human family sought to obtain by building the Tower of Babel, notice the promises God makes to Abram when he first calls him: “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:2-3). Notice please that God here promises to Abram everything that those at Babel had desired to gain for themselves and SO MUCH MORE. Now, note two key differences; 1) Abram is receiving these things as a gift, he makes no attempt to seize them for himself; and 2) in order to obtain them he must leave everything he knows behind, his home country and his father’s house and venture into unknown lands (Gen 12:1); in short, Abram is being called to journey with God, to a pilgrimage that will last the remainder of his life, and which will be continued on by the whole People of Israel as his descendents.
There are two additional elements to note in God’s words to Abram here. First, he promises to bless those who bless Abram and curse those who curse him (Gen 12:3), a sign that God here is deigning to be identified with the ones with whom he is entering into relationship with. Secondly, he promises that in Abram, all the families of the earth will be blessed (ibid.). Both of these promises will ultimately be fulfilled in Jesus; the first in that in the person of Christ God self-identifies with humanity by uniting human nature to himself in such solidarity that near the end of his ministry Christ can tell his followers that to do good to a human person is to do good to God (Matt. 25:40 & 45); and the second being fulfilled precisely by this perfect solidarity.
With all this in mind we turn to our Gospel reading for today. Therein, we see him who is the fulfillment of these promises ascend a mountain with Peter, James and John. Here already we see parallels with the story of the People of Israel. In the Book of Exodus, just after the people of Israel have the words of the Law of the Covenant read to them by Moses, Moses seals the covenant between God and the people by splashing the blood of a sacrificial oxen on the people (Ex 24:6-8). Then, Moses ascends Mount Sinai with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu; notice the parallel of 3 companions; and there they all meet with God (Ex 24:9-10). Next, Moses is singled out by God to come up further so that he may receive the law on stone tablets. On the seventh day (again note that the Transfiguration is said to have taken place on the 7th day Matt. 17:1), Moses is confronted by the glory of God, such that after descending from the mountain “the skin of his face was shining” (Ex 34:30), a recurrence which would take place after every time Moses met with God “face to face” (Ex. 34:33-35). Thus, in these parallels we are meant to see the story of the People of Israel being fulfilled in the life of Christ, a fact that is further emphasized by the fact that on the Mountain of the Transfiguration Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus signifying that all the Law and the Prophets both foretold the coming of Christ and in a hidden way spoke of him through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Yet, for all the parallels there is one significant difference between the “transfigurations” of Moses and the transfiguration of Jesus, and that is that Moses was transfigured by being in the presence of God, his transfiguration being effected by something external to him, whereas with Christ, the transfiguration is simply his gifting Peter, James, and John with a glimpse of his true glory which is natural to his very person (Matt 17:2). At this point, we may be asking ourselves, what does all of this have to do with Lent? Well, just prior to ascending the mountain of the Transfiguration, Jesus foretells of his Passion and death and also tells his disciples “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?” (Matt 16:24-26).
My friends, during this Season of Lent we are asked to renew our resolve when it comes to carrying the crosses we deal with every day, and make a firm decision to carry those crosses for the greater glory of God. Yes, living the life of a disciple of Christ can only lead one place, Calvary, but Calvary is a gateway to the life we glimpse on the Mount of the Transfiguration! For you see Christ did not come simply to display the glory of God to the human family but he came precisely so that the human family may share in that same glory! This is the promised blessing made to Abram, and like Abram we are called to reach its fulfillment through a journey, a pilgrimage wherein we join Christ, allowing him to guide and animate our steps as we become ever more transfigured into the people he created us to be, for in this God is truly glorified (John 15:8).
Your servant in Christ,
Tony Crescio is the founder of FRESHImage Ministries. He holds an MTS from the University of Notre Dame and is currently a PhD candidate in Christian Theology at Saint Louis University. His research focuses on the intersection between moral and sacramental theology. His dissertation is entitled, Presencing the Divine: Augustine, the Eucharist and the Ethics of Exemplarity.
Tony’s academic publications can be found here.