A Reflection on the Readings for the 2nd Sunday in Lent, March 5
Genesis chapter 12 is entitled “Abram’s Call and Migration” and is our introduction to Abraham. The first point to notice is that his name at this point of the narrative is Abram; it is not until chapter 17 that God changes his name to Abraham because it is in chapter 17 that Abraham received circumcision as the sign of the covenant God made with Abraham and his descendants. It is in chapter 17 that God reiterates: “I am making you the father of a host of nations.”
However, if we were to read more of the stories of Abraham and Sarah in chapters 12-25, we would see that these are stories of the struggles they had to maintain their faith and trust in God to fulfill His promises to Abraham. Overall, they did maintain that faith and trust, but there were occasions when they faltered.
The two major promises made to Abraham were that his descendants would inherit the land of Canaan (i.e., The Promised Land) and that Abraham would be the father of a great nation. It is understandable that it would be difficult for them to trust these promises as Abraham was apparently 75 years of age at this point in the narrative, and Sarah was 65 and barren. In addition, it would be another 25 years of following God’s directives while wandering through the land before Sarah would finally give birth to their only child, Isaac.
On two different occasions, Abraham’s faith in God’s ability to protect him faltered. Sarah was apparently a beautiful woman, and on each of these occasions, Abraham claimed Sarah was his sister and gave her to a king because he thought the king would kill him to take Sarah as his own wife (see Gn 12:11-19 and Gn 20:2-3). What a wimp! But Abraham wasn’t actually lying. Chapter 20, verse 12 tells us that Sarah was actually his half-sister, sharing the same father but different mothers. In addition, it was an accepted practice in Haran, the community they migrated from, for a man to adopt his wife as a sister, giving her an elevated status.
In chapter 16, they lose faith in God’s ability to give them an heir, so Sarah gives her Egyptian maidservant, Hagar, to Abraham to have relations with because it was an accepted practice to use a surrogate mother to bear children for her mistress, resulting in the birth of Ishmael.
In chapter 17, God reiterated the promise to give them an heir, but Abraham laughed at the promise. In chapter 18, Sarah would not believe it and laughs at the promise. In chapter 21, the promise of an heir was finally fulfilled with the birth of Isaac, and the age-old feud between Arab and Jew began. God promised that, as Ishmael was Abraham’s son, God would make him the father of twelve chieftains (the Arab nations; see Gn 17:20) and that he would be a wild ass of a man with his hand against all his neighbors and his neighbors against him; but the covenantal promises would be carried out through Isaac, and the promise of the land would be to Isaac and his descendants, not Ishmael.
The overall message of these chapters is our frail humanity’s propensity to lose faith in God, especially in tough times. We are to see that the promises to Abraham and Sarah were all fulfilled, despite their lapses of faith. We are to see that if we maintain faith in God and do our very best to abide by the teachings of Christ as presented by the church, then the promise of our salvation will also be fulfilled, even if we have occasional lapses in faith, as did Abraham and Sarah.
Our second reading from 2nd Timothy continues this message. We are to bear the hardships of life “with the strength that comes from God,” believing that Christ destroyed eternal death and offers us eternal life if we will maintain faith and strive to live according to His teachings.
Our gospel this week is Matthew’s account of the Transfiguration of Jesus. The voice of God from the cloud would confirm for the apostles that Jesus truly is the Son of God and would also point to the glory that Jesus will share with His father and the apostles and all who remain faithful to Christ. The appearance of Moses and Elijah confirms the validity of the Old Testament’s Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah). The fact that the Transfiguration occurs on a “high mountain” recalls Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai (Ex 19) and Elijah taking refuge at the same place (1Kgs 19).
The voice of God from the cloud also recalls the baptism of Jesus when God affirmed that Jesus was His Son in whom God was well-pleased. But at the Transfiguration, God also adds: “listen to him.” That addition is probably meant to recall Moses’ statement in Deuteronomy 18: “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kinsmen; to him, you shall listen.”
The last verse of our gospel this week is also significant: “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” That is referred to as the “Messianic Secret.” The people of Jesus’ time were praying for and anticipating the coming of the messiah, but they expected that messiah to be a warrior king who would relieve them of the oppression of the Romans and re-establish the Kingdom of Israel as it was under King David. Jesus is truly a king, but he did not come to establish a political kingdom; he came to establish a heavenly kingdom wherein those who believe in and follow Jesus’ commandments will enjoy eternal peace in the happy presence of God. Jesus’ messiahship was to be kept secret from the people because, if they knew he was their messiah, they would want to carry him off and make him the King of Israel, and that is not the kingdom Jesus came to establish.
The golden thread of our readings this week is: Look and see what is in store for you if you maintain faith. Abraham remained faithful and became the father of many nations. The apostles maintained faith and became the first bishops of the church that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, developed and spread throughout the world. We, too, may find ourselves joined with them, for all eternity, in that state of existence we call heaven if we maintain our faith. But, as frail humans, our faith may falter in times of stress. And when it does, we are to pray for: “The strength that comes from God” to renew that faith.
Reference: © José Luiz Bernardes Ribeiro
Author: Ric Cross