for the 2d Sunday of Lent
Feb. 28, 2010
Luke 9: 28-36
Gen 15: 5-12, 17-18
Ursulines, Willow Dr.
“‘O Lord God,’ Abram asked, ‘how am I to know that I shall possess this land?’” (Gen 15: 8).
On Feb. 19 a “Non Sequitur” cartoon in the Journal News, and also the Post, showed a graveside and tombstone. One of the bystanders was observing to another, “He was a devout agnostic.” Engraved on the tombstone was, “See you later…maybe.”
Uncertainty, skepticism, doubt—that famous Missouri attitude that demands, “Show me”—are part of life, and with good reason. No one wants to be taken in, fooled, suckered; and so we have a healthy skepticism of commercials, used cars, politicians, and lots of other people and “received knowledge.” A lot of science involves testing of “what everyone knows,” e.g., Galileo’s dropping objects of unequal weight from the tower of Pisa and disproving “common sense” because both objects fell at the same rate, regardless of weight.
Thus Abram—whose name God hasn’t changed yet to Abraham—asks the Lord for some sign, some evidence, some assurance that God really will give this land to him and to his descendants. God responds by making a covenant with him; for that’s what the solemn ritual of animal slaughter and the fire passing between the 2 rows of carcasses means. God gives his sacred, contractual word to carry out his promise.
The apostles’ vision of Jesus on Mt. Tabor doesn’t involve a covenant. But it does involve a divine commitment. Jesus has just made his 1st prediction of his passion, death, and resurrection to the disciples (Luke 9:22), and in this transfiguration scene the passion—Jesus’ “exodus” in Jerusalem—is the topic of conversation among Jesus, Moses, and Elijah (9:30-31). The disciples haven’t begun at all to grasp that the Messiah must suffer, die, and rise, and so they can hardly demand, “Show me!” Even after the fact it’ll have to be spelled out for them, OT verse by OT verse, as the Risen Lord does for Cleopas and his companion on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:27). But the Lord’s transfiguration is a showing, a promise that suffering and death will open the road to glory. How are Peter, James, and John to know that they shall posses the promised land, the kingdom of heaven? Because they have seen the Messiah in his glory. When the divine voice exclaims, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him” (9:35), it’s an implicit promise that listening to this chosen Son, following the path of Jesus, will bring them to this same heavenly glory.
St. Paul, likewise, saw the Lord in his glory. That was the basis for his conversion and for his total dedication to preaching Christ crucified and risen. It was why he could announce to his hearers and readers, “Our citizenship is in heaven” and “Our savior, the Lord Jesus Christ will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body” (Phil 3:20-21).
In this Lenten season hundreds of thousands of catechumens around the world are preparing for Baptism, for entering a covenant with the Lord Jesus. We who are already baptized are recommitting ourselves to that covenant and will renew of baptismal promises on Easter Sunday. Going into the waters of Baptism, sacramentally dying and rising with Christ, is a bit like Abram’s trance and the “deep, terrifying darkness [that] enveloped him” (Gen 15:12). It’s a bit like being covered over by the cloud on Mt. Tabor. It’s a moment of promise, God’s promise, that he will fulfill his word; he will give us the promised land, he will lead us to eternal life.
Abram believed, and God kept the covenant. The apostles were commanded to listen to Jesus, and so they did; now they “sit on 12 thrones” at Jesus’ side (Luke 22:30). The covenant is made also with us. God’s promise is ours too. How are we to know that we shall possess this land? Because thru the apostles we have already seen Christ’s glory. Today’s patristic reading in the Divine Office comes from a sermon of St. Leo the Great. He tells us that in his transfiguration our Lord “was providing a firm foundation for the hope of holy Church. The whole body of Christ was to understand the kind of transformation that it would receive as his gift. The members of that body were to look forward to a share in that glory which first blazed out in Christ their head.”* For us there’s no “maybe” about “See you later,” thanks be to God!
* Sermon 51 (LOH 2:149).