Theme: We are called, blessed and graced
Much of human life is characterized by movement. Workers and students commute to and from offices, factories and places of their business. People seeking better opportunities have made ours a mobile society in which one person in five changes residences annually. As is attested throughout the Holy Bible, much of our monotheistic spirituality is also inextricably bound to the experience of traveling.
From the patriarchs to the disciples all were characterized by movement from one place to another. Theirs was not an idle wandering, aimless searching; but rather a purposeful journey assisted by faith in God thus making their travel a useful pilgrimage. Today we are reminded not to lose our sense of purpose and direction to avoid felling victims to sin.
First reading: Genesis 12:1-4
As it is for us Christians and Jews in the Holy Bible and for Muslims in the Holy Qu’ran/Koran; Abraham is known as a righteous man. Abraham was tried by God with certain commands and he obeyed them all; then God said to him, “I will make thee an Imam to the nations” Sura II Baqara c.48, p. 51-52. An Arabic word, Iman means: 1- a leader in religion; 2- leader in prayer; 3- a model, pattern and example; 4- a book of guidance and instruction. From the moment he heard this call he responded in faith, thus becoming an Imam for all believers. The name Abram originates from Ab meaning father and ram meaning great. Abraham was from Ur in Chaldea cf. Genesis 11:31 and, as one of Terah’s sons, he journeyed with his family to Haran in upper Mesopotamia, about 900 miles north of Ur. Biblical descriptions of Abraham suggest that he was a well-to-do sheik of a nomadic tribe whose livelihood was largely pastoral depending on sheep and goats. Economically and socially, his greatness was measured in the size of his family and flocks. Spiritually, however, Abram’s greatness was founded in his faith.
When God called, Abram responded; where God directed, Abraham followed. Though we are told nothing of his thoughts or doubts concerning the Lord’s command to “Go forth to the land I will show you” Genesis 12:1 there is, nevertheless, ample evidence that Abram wholeheartedly complied. Because of his faith and willingness to accept God as the guide for his life’s journey, Abram was blessed by God and through him all the communities of the earth. So abundant were the blessings that generations after him regarded his name a blessing. The name of Abraham took on such significance that it was uttered at territorial land boundaries to represent the legality of a binding signed contract or surveyor’s document. Whereas the sins of the first humans had brought curses, pain, alienation and death, Abram’s faith in God and in his promises has brought prosperity, offsprings and privileges. In his capacity as blessed believer, a willing pilgrim and an Iman, Abram is an apt companion for every Lenten traveler.
Second reading: 2Timothy 1:8-10
When Abram was called by God to go forth and become father of nations, his way was blessed and graced but not without struggle. When Moses and the enslaved Semitic tribes in Egypt were called by God from slavery to freedom, their journey was not without difficulties. In fact the challenges they faced were so great that some even felt inclined to return to Egypt. Paul, on his way to Damascus was called, blessed and graced by the risen Lord; from that moment his direction and purpose of life radically altered. But Paul, like Abraham, Moses, the Israelites and Jesus whose saving good news Paul was commissioned to preach was to learn immediately “the hardship which the gospel entails” 2Timothy 1:8. It is historically proved that the second and third generation Christians for whom the pastoral letters among them 1st and 2nd Timothy were exposed to incredible civil hostilities instigated by Nero as he reigned.
Also difficulties within the Church threatened its unity and well-being. False teachers and their erroneous doctrines cf. 1Timothy 4:1-10, 6:2-10 and 2Timothy 3:1-9 attacked the authenticity of Paul and even the credibility of the gospel. This was because rapid growth of an increasingly urban Church required new leaders and more extensive ministries because of demand and supply imbalance. The ever present attraction from the pagan society also poised another challenge thus requiring a constant and daily renewal of commitment to the Christian faith. Aware of the hardships which beset his collaborators, Paul advised the community through Timothy to remember that they had been saved by Christ and called on them to live in a manner worthy of their election. Paul clarified that with each call from God, there is a corresponding gift of unmerited grace which empowers the believer to respond to him. This presentation of free grace is Paul’s pre-eminent contribution to the world. Paul taught that grace is free, sovereign and unfettered. It is free in the sense that it is offered to all; Grace is the source and principle of liberation from the bondage of sin, death, legalism and moral anarchy making Grace the only daily miracles which make it possible to answer the call to live a holy life despite the hardships which life entails. We all called to be holy because Grace is available for all of us.
Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9
Today’s Gospel narrate that before Peter, James and his brother John, Jesus transfigured on a high mountain. What was the exact purpose of His transfiguration? Because of three reasons: First of all, when God spoke from Heaven, as He had spoken during the Baptism Mt. 3:17 of Jesus, His sonship was being revealed to those who were present. Secondly, when the face of Jesus shone like the sun and His clothes became dazzling white, the event testified that Jesus was the true Light for everyone. Thirdly, the transfiguration foreshadowed the eternal reign of Jesus as God and King in Heaven. The Book of Revelation and the Letter of St John tells us, “and there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light.” Revelation 22:5. “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” 1 1John 1:5
Contextually, the transfiguration narrative follows immediately upon Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ, “Son of the living God” Matthew 16:13-15, Jesus’ prediction of his passion cf. Matthew 16:21-23, and a series of five saying underscoring the challenges of discipleship in Matthew 16:24-28. As such, it offers confirmation of Peter’s confession and anticipates the resurrection of Jesus in glory. Interestingly, the narrative is cloaked with the characteristic symbols of Old Testament theophanies, such as the mountain, the cloud, dazzling light and a voice from heaven. No doubt, the mountain is meant to remind us of Sinai, where God revealed his glory to Moses and made his saving will known to his people. The shekinah was reminiscent of the cloud which signaled God’s presence and guided Israel through the desert cf. Exodus 24:15, 40:34, Jesus’ face, dazzling as the sun and his clothes, radiant as light, called to mind the apocalyptic man of Daniel’s visions in Daniel 10:6,7,9 and the radiance on Moses’ face after conversing with God in Exodus 34:35. As at Jesus’ baptism described by Mathew 3:17, the voice from the heavens clarified the significance of the event, simultaneously identifying Jesus as the beloved Son and favored Servant of God as it is stated in Psalm 2:7. The command, “Listen to him” Matthew 17:5 also recalled the invitations issued in the sapiential literature, to listen to Wisdom of God as stated in Proverbs 5:7 and Sirach 6:35, 21:15.
As a new Moses, Jesus is presented in glory as the source of all wisdom and the teacher of God’s saving ways. Moses and Elijah represent the law and the prophets which have been finalized in Jesus. Peter’s desire to pitch three tents is an allusion to the feast of Sukkoth cf. Deuteronomy 16:13-15. The Jews believed that God would finally manifest his kingship during the annual celebration of Sukkoth. Cf. Zechariah 14. Peter’s suggestion of let us stay here indicates that the eschatological moment had arrived. Like Peter we need always to be ready to stay with Jesus.
We are reminded to be people of faith in the footsteps of our Patriarch Abraham even when the situation seems to be unfavorable. We are the travelers who have respond to God’s call, though marked by hardship we remain consistent because of his grace is able to transfigure us. What is fundamental is that we ought to climb the mountain of our life with Jesus today until the top and then listen so that we can receive unconditionally the Grace to understand priorities of life. Let us not waste ourselves; time to convert is now.