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2nd Sunday in Lent – Year A (March 16th) E-mail
Written by Nicholas King SJ   
Saturday, 15 February 2014 16:24

•    Genesis 12:1-4
•    Psalm 33: 4-5, 18-20, 22
•    2 Timothy: 1:8-10
•    Matthew 17:1-9

If we are to make it through the apparently interminable desert journey that is our Lenten preparation for Easter, then we need a vision to keep us going. This is what the readings for next Sunday offer us.

The vision, however, does not mean that we shall be aware of everything that lies ahead of us (we probably should not set out on the journey if we were!). Consider Abraham, in our first reading. He is summoned by God, to “leave your country and your family and your father’s house, and go to a land I am going to show you”. He is promised blessing, and multiplication (“I shall make you into a great nation”); but if he had known what lay ahead of him, in the next thirteen chapters of Genesis, he could have been pardoned for making his excuses, and suggesting that the Lord invite somebody else. But he heard the command, and plodded into history; and that is what we are invited blindly to do, knowing that God is in charge.

That would not be a problem for the poet who composed the psalm for next Sunday, “for the word of the Lord is upright”, he sings, “and all his deeds are done with integrity”. And as we plod on, we are to be encouraged by the vision, for “look! The eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, to rescue their soul from death”.  There is a resounding confidence here in the psalmist’s vision of the Lord: “our soul waits for the Lord; our helper and our shield is he.” So even your long journey through Lent is manageable, if you will only put your attention where your attention ought to be.

The second reading likewise speaks of the vision that we need, in order to keep us going. For God, the author says, is “the one who rescued us, and who called us with a holy calling, not because of what we have done, but because of his own plan and free gift”. The plan, it seems, goes back to all eternity (“given to us in Christ Jesus before eternal times”), but has become evident in Christ, “through the apparition of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who cancelled out death, but illuminated life and immortality through the gospel”. Ask, this week, to see that vision.

And now the gospel, which is, as always on the second Sunday of Lent, that visionary experience of the Transfiguration, which the Church presumably gives us because of the recognition that we need something to keep us plodding on with our journey.  In Matthew’s gospel, it is dated “six days” after the remarkable experience at Caesarea Philippi; and Jesus takes his “inner cabinet”, of Peter, and the two brothers James and John, the sons of Zebedee, “and he brings them up a high mountain, on their own”.  Quite without any preparation, we learn that “he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light”.  As we reel before this vision, we realise that there is more: “Look! Moses appeared to them, and Elijah; they were chatting with him!”. So part of the vision has to do with who Jesus is; and at the very least he is to be understood as on a par with those two iconic figures of Scripture, Moses who represents God’s Torah or Law, and Elijah, standing for the great prophetic tradition. Peter panics, you may feel, but his heart is in the right place, as he proposes to construct a camping-site: “Lord – it’s good for us to be here. If you like, I’m going to construct three tents here, one for you and one for Moses, and one for Elijah”. The order in which he names them means at least that Peter rates Jesus way above Moses and Elijah. And so, it seems, does God, for “while he was still speaking, Look! A radiant cloud overshadowed them, and look!  A voice from the cloud!” And what does the Almighty say (for clearly it is the voice of God)? The message is not just for baffled Peter, for God speaks in the plural (“you lot”), so it is for James and John as well, but it also comes down the ages to us as we continue the Lenten journey: “This is my Son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased”, echoing the Song of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah. Then comes an instruction that we must take with us through Lent: “Listen to him”.  Instead, the inner cabinet, perhaps engaging our sympathy, dive for cover. “They fell on their faces and were very afraid”. That is not, however, the correct response to the presence of God, as we learn next: “and Jesus approached and touched them and said, ‘Be raised up, and don’t be afraid’.” Then the shape of the vision alters: “they lifted up their eyes, and saw nobody, except for just Jesus.” And the journey continues: “as they went down out of the mountain, Jesus gave them orders, saying, “Don’t tell anyone of the vision, until the Son of Man is raised up from the dead.” So the vision is to keep them (and us) going on the journey until Easter. Let the vision help you on the journey in the coming week.