CNS photo/Andy Telli, Tennessee Register

Great things come to those with faith

  • March 6, 2014

Second Sunday of Lent (Year A) March 9 (Genesis 12:1-4; Psalm 33; 2 Timothy 1:8b-10; Matthew 17:1-9)

All great things begin with an act of faith and trust. The Western religious traditions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — trace their beginnings to the command of God to Abraham and his response.

God did not ask something insignificant or easy — it was the equivalent of annihilation. Abraham was asked to leave behind everything that gave him security and identity: native land, culture, kinfolk and predictability. He was to strike off into the unknown with no idea of the destination. He would be completely in God’s hands.

The unfamiliar and mysterious was as disturbing then as it is now. If Abraham consulted anyone before undertaking this journey they probably assured him that he was out of his mind. The voices of reason can often drown out the call to faith. But this was an act of sacred risk-taking, so Abraham put his entire life on the line and never looked back.

In exchange for this lifetime of wandering and not-knowing, God promised Abraham divine protection and blessing. His descendants would be numerous; they would become a great nation and be a blessing for all the peoples of the earth. The rest, as they say, is history.

Abraham lived a long and checkered life and not all of it was admirable — he was far from perfect. But he walked with unwavering trust in God, and that is why he is called our father in faith. Trust defines faith rather than assent to various beliefs and doctrines. One can be perfect in theology and exhibit little faith, while another can be the epitome of faith but ignorant of the fine points of doctrine.

God never forces. He always begins any great undertaking by asking ordinary people if they trust enough to take a holy risk. Much hangs in the balance — not only Abraham comes to mind but the prophets, John the Baptist and Mary. Our response to God’s invitation to join in the divine work will have consequences not only for us in the present but for generations yet unborn.

To be invited by God to a trust journey into the unknown is no small thing and sometimes frightening. It should also fill us with wonder and gratitude that God thinks so much of us.

The author of 2 Timothy was well aware of how much we need to rely on God. He was acutely aware of how little in life we can really control and the futility of our attempts to save ourselves and to play God. At the same time, he was overcome with gratitude at what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. He renewed God’s invitation to join the holy work and continue the redemptive mission of Jesus — relying, of course, solely on God’s grace.

The powerful depiction of the Transfiguration of Jesus has been expressed countless times in sacred art. Like the apostles who were with Jesus, we are filled with awe at the scene but don’t know quite what to make of the event. Peter’s response was typical: build some shrines and venerate the spot. But the location of this event was not what was holy or important.

This is a human failing — venerating or worshipping an event, object or place without really comprehending its inner meaning or the impact it should have on our lives. With a clue from 2 Timothy, we recognize that the presence of Moses and Elijah was not coincidental. Jesus was in continuity with all that had gone before him. God’s redemptive plan was thousands of years in the making and was now beginning to unfold in Jerusalem.

Countless individuals, both those named and unnamed, said ‘yes’ to God’s invitation and took a sacred risk. Without them there would have been no cross and no Christ. The voice from the cloud commanded the apostles (and us) to listen to the Beloved — and He had plenty to say.

On the way to Jerusalem He spoke about conversion of heart, discipleship, forgiveness and the need for disciples to pattern their lives on his. That dazzling epiphany on the mountaintop was focused completely on the mission of Jesus.

Let us not be distracted by the brilliant light and the presence of Moses and Elijah. Jesus desired to be followed and imitated more than worshipped.

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