A mosaic in the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor in Israel illustrates the transfiguration of Jesus as told in Luke’s Gospel. Photo by Itamar Grinberg/Wikipedia

God's Word on Sunday: We need to be faithful to God’s promise

  • March 6, 2022

Second Sunday of Lent, March 13 (Year C) Genesis 1 5:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28b-36

Covenants were serious affairs in the ancient world and were sealed in blood. God had promised Abram (he had not received his name change yet) land and many descendants. He would become the father of a great nation. God told him that his descendants would be more numerous than the stars in the sky.

That was a huge promise and most people would have laughed at such a preposterous idea. After all, he was getting on in years and there was no sign of an heir. But he believed the impossible; he believed God, despite all contrary evidence. And in God’s eyes, that counted for righteousness.

That promise would become his guiding light and lodestar for his entire life. But he hesitated a moment — how would he know that all of this would come to pass? A heifer, goat and a ram were sacrificed and cut in two, and placed with a turtledove and a pigeon.

All of this is very alien to our own thinking, but it was significant then. Abram fell into a trance — a deep sleep — and was surrounded by terrifying darkness, which was understood as the divine presence.

The light and the torch passing between the halves of the sacrificial animals sealed the deal. Abram could rest easy. His life took many twists and turns, not all of them positive, but he remained faithful to the promise.

God does not grant us such dramatic signs of affirmation to bolster our faith. God is much more subtle — our reassurance might come in an ordinary event or sign or might even be an inner feeling of peace and joy. But the principle is the same: It is not enough merely to believe in God — we also need to believe God. That means believe God’s promises, God’s presence in the world and in our lives, and God’s goodness and fidelity to us.

Our continual embrace of God’s grace, despite our weaknesses and mistakes, counts for righteousness in God’s eyes. We do not have to win the race, but we must complete it regardless of how long it takes.

Paul gave us the perfect definition of being in the world but not of it. His community struggled against many adversaries, but Paul told them not to worry or lose heart. The true Christian believer — one who lives in Christ with full mind and heart — already lives in another world. We can live in this world as if we have already crossed over the threshold.

Paul said our citizenship is in Heaven. Although we live in the world still, we live by the principles and laws of Heaven and our outlook on the world and our conduct reflect this new vision. Our experience of life will be very different, even in the midst of the darkness that our world continually generates.

The experience of the transfiguration must have been terrifying for the three apostles who accompanied Jesus. They saw Him talking with Moses and Elijah about His impending “exodus” from this world in Jerusalem. Salvation history was reaching a climax.

In an attempt to make sense of what was happening, Peter blurted out that they should build three shelters or shrines — one for Jesus, one for Moses, and one for Elijah — in memory of this event. But human religiosity or building shrines was not what Jesus was about. His mission was to obey the will of God, even to the cross.

But then the same dark cloud that enveloped Abraham in Genesis made another appearance. They were in the cloud that was the divine presence, and they heard the voice assuring them that Jesus was God’s Son and was the Chosen one. This was followed by a terse and direct call to discipleship: listen to Him!

Those words, so often ignored, are directed to us and to all people throughout human history. From this point onward in Luke’s Gospel, everything moves inexorably towards Jerusalem and the destiny of Jesus.

The life and destiny of Jesus portrayed in the Gospel is also ours, especially discipleship. But there is more.

In the Eastern Christian tradition, the light of the transfiguration is something that disciples of Jesus who walk in His ways can experience. They will be transformed — divinized — by the Spirit of Christ. That is our ultimate destiny and is far more rewarding than building shelters or structures.