A painting of the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord found in St. Joseph Oratory in Mont Royal, Montreal.

God's Word on Sunday: Path to Heaven built with discipleship

  • March 16, 2019

Second Sunday of Lent, March 17 (Year C) Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Psalm 27; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28b-36

Believing God and believing in God are not quite the same. Many people believe in God, but their belief has little or no impact on their lives. God is an idea or concept carried in their minds, perhaps expressed in dogma, doctrine and ritual. 

This sort of faith is quick to fade and grow cold, and often cannot endure challenges and adversity. Fortunately, we are given another model of faith — that of Abraham. We know the story well: God called Abraham to leave his homeland, culture, people, gods and security, and strike out into the unknown. God would not reveal the final destination, but promised that in exchange for this trust, Abraham would become the father of a great nation and many descendants. 

Abraham was not by any means perfect, but he was faithful to God and governed his entire life by the promise God had given to him. It was the “kindly light” that guided him on his journey through life. 

There is more than one version in Genesis of Abraham’s call. In this passage, God tells him to look up at the stars. God promises that Abraham’s descendants will be more numerous than the stars in the sky. Rationally, Abraham would have had every right to be skeptical. He was an old man and had no children. The chances of his becoming the father of a great nation were nil, at least from the human perspective. 

But Abraham believed God — not believed in God, for there were few if any atheists in the ancient world. He was willing to believe the impossible and outrageous because God had promised it. 

At this point in history, the Law, the Ten Commandments and everything we associate with our religious traditions, had not yet made their appearance. But God looked upon Abraham’s faith — his absolute trust — and counted that as righteousness. Trust made Abraham right in God’s eyes; for this reason, he is our father in faith. 

Perhaps this is what is often missing today — trust in God. Our faith is easily shaken by adversity and we are easy prey for the secular barrage aimed at religion. The recitation of the creed is of little use unless it is accompanied by deep trust in God. 

We see a world that is spinning out of control and the failure of institutions, structures, governments and societies. But God has promised to be with us always, to never give us more than we can bear, and to give us the grace and strength we need. Do we believe God?

How do we live out this sort of trust? Paul gives us some direction: We live like the citizens of Heaven we are. The Lord has promised that our human and physical limitations will give way to a heavenly and spiritual reality. The response of faith is to live with the values, hope, love and joy that accompany such a heavenly reality. We can and should begin to experience Heaven even in this life, if only our hearts and minds are open.

The Transfiguration gives us a hint of that heavenly reality. Jesus and the three disciples in the inner circle — Peter, James and John — went to the mountain top to pray. In Scripture, the mountain top was the privileged place for the encounter between God and humans. 

The dazzling white light and the presence of Elijah and Moses alert the reader that this is a glimpse behind the veil into the realm of the Spirit. They are discussing the impending “exodus” or departure of Jesus from this world that will occur in Jerusalem. Jesus will be the first; many more will follow because of His mission. 

Peter fails to grasp the meaning of this revelation and seeks to turn this experience into a place of worship and commemoration. But faith is dynamic and always on the move. 

Throughout the Gospel of Luke, Jesus makes it truly clear that the road to this heavenly reality passes through the struggles and trials of this world. 

The tool that enables our safe passage is discipleship, love and service — in the face of everything our world throws in our path. That is how we show our Abrahamic faith today.

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