Second Sunday in Lent
Walter Brueggemann referring to the Bible’s central vision of world history being the oneness of all creation, writes ‘Every creature in community with every other, living in harmony and security toward the joy and well-being of every other creature.’ Living Toward a Vision: Biblical Reflections on Shalom. Is this possible? For this to be possible, the readings call us to listen. They point to what God wants and confront us with what we will do with Jesus’ various epiphanies or revelations.
What will we do with the words ‘this is my beloved child’ when we realise they are also for us and propel us into a way of life that makes God’s Reign visible for others. There will be consequences for us as for Jesus. Being on the mountain is fine, but going down is not for the faint of heart. Jesus returns with his followers to the everyday life of misunderstanding, squabbling and disbelieving disciples; into the religious and political quarrels of the day; into the jealousy and rivalry that infect our relationships; into the poverty, injustice and suffering that impact on many lives. Jesus does not come down alone. God comes down among us into our brokenness, fear, disappointment, and loss and enter the dark places of the world and the dark places of our lives.
Today’s readings are transfiguration stories. In Genesis there was a moment of revelation for Abraham who was adhering to the cultural requirement in ancient Mesopotamia to sacrifice their firstborn sons and flock and discovered that God reject child/human sacrifice. The primitive ‘faith’ of the time where one offered to God the best one had and the drought, famine or flood and other hardships might end was overturned. Abraham’s faith was different because he was able to listen attentively to the God of Life who said ‘stop’ and realise that the One he followed did not want death but life - a God of peace and nonviolence. It was the capacity to listen for a transfiguration of understanding to occur.
Jesus expands the understanding of God with his calls to ‘love one another, love the enemy, forgive one another, be compassionate and be merciful, seek God’s peace and justice.’ In a horrendous act of domestic terrorism, one of many, on St Valentine’s Day in Parkland, Florida (2018) 17 school students were killed in an act tolerated by National Rifle Association policies and money put in the hands of those who rule the USA. Here was an act of child sacrifice condoned by people who refused to listen and refused to implement laws prohibiting ownership of weapons of war. Such ownership was more important than children’s lives. Money provided to politicians enabled them to look away and not act. Thoughts and prayers did not work. But the students confronted their unprincipled elders as they were shamed by demands for changes to the law. They showed themselves as the effective leaders of the country. This has been repeated over and over around the world with Black Lives Matter and the Students Strikes for Climate Change.
The voice in the gospel directs us to ‘Listen to him.’ If we listen, we would be transfigured and so would our world. It would be peaceful. As the voice in the gospel, and Pope Francis, call us to listen to Jesus’ words and apply them in creating the kinds of right relationships that build communities in the here and now. Peter was being exclusive when wanted to hoard the presence of Jesus for a select few on the mountain. Pope Francis warns against exclusivity in our relationships calling it ‘the globalization of indifference’. The way of relationship, not confrontation, the way of nonviolence, not violence, seeks to win friendship and understanding and looks for the humanity in the other.
Today’s gospel is about seeing in a new way. It is about seeing things as they are and how they could be. The Transfiguration is a narrative of hope, because one who was rich in divinity, became poor to be with us. We are called to step outside of our normal boundaries and listen to Jesus….. who speaks to us through suffering men, women and children. What if we would listen more? In the midst of war and violence, we are called to see the presence of God and the invitation to peace. Abraham learned that God was a God of peace and not sacrifice. Yet we see young people sacrificed over and over again in places in many places of the world as they are forced to fight battles they have nothing to do. The vision of Abraham, the standing with Jesus on the mountain could be a way of learning that war and injustice, poverty and hunger are not inevitable.
The Genesis story is about the end of human sacrifice – anything that diminishes the image of God in another. Killing [‘human sacrifice’], whether in war or in refugee detention centres or capital punishment, has no sanction and no place in our religion. That ’human sacrifice’ continues to be offered in the use of sex slaves, human trafficking, child labour, sweat shops and detention of asylum seekers.
As in the story of Abraham, it is the male who makes the decision for human sacrifice. Where was Isaac’s mother, Sarah? Was he not her son, too? How many women have had their eyes opened to the lies, deceit, waste, the evil sacrifice of humanity to war in the form of their children, husbands, fathers and brothers. When God’s angel stayed Abraham’s hand, it said ‘Enough!’ This is a story for Christians, Jews, Muslims, and people of all other faiths. ‘Enough!’ The voice of God today rings out: ‘listen to him’. ‘Put away the sword’. ‘Don't return evil for evil. Return good for evil’.
We have transfiguration moments in our lives. The transfiguration is not a one-time event. It is repeated in events of encounter with people, with nature, and the inanimate world where we might see the extraordinary in the ordinary be it when we are able to see the stars at night, the presence of a baby, the change in a person, the passion for justice in people and organisations and the struggles for peace and justice. We can see things differently and act differently. Jesus saw things that others did not: the poor widow who gave all they had, Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree, and felt the woman’s touch in the crowd hoping to be healed. Jesus saw things from an upside-down world and saw God present because he saw with the eyes of love. It is possible for us to see God in others, to recognise their sacredness and dignity. We need to make the effort to connect with them. We can live together in our diversity: let go of racism; let go of hatred for homosexuals; let go of greed, power and the need to control; to let go of violence in word and action; to let go of fear that leads to paralysis and inaction; to let go of the mistrust that prevent conflict and problem resolution – all this because we have been to the ‘mountain’ and come down again knowing that God is in all things, all people, that we are sisters and brothers.
We have been exhorted to listen to Jesus. The message remains the same: love one another, i.e., take care of one another, especially the downtrodden. Whenever we give our time for the benefit of another, we are laying down our life. Whenever we take the time to write on behalf of a person who is being oppressed or ill-treated, even though we are unlikely to ever meet that person, we are laying down our life. Whenever we rally or support a living wage or seek to ensure humane treatment of migrants and refugees, we are laying down our life. May we come to understand the social implications of the gospel and learn to speak up for justice for all those who are oppressed in any way. Maybe we have come to see that war and injustice, poverty and hunger, do not have to be.
Pope Francis is calling us as a human family to be transfigured by love and solidarity. He invites us to think beyond the broken economic and social paradigms that have led us to our modern crises – the pandemic, the environmental crises, economies of exclusion and consumerism, the refugee crisis, etc. He invites us to step back from our entrenched ways of thinking in order to imagine creative new ways of being in relationship with one another and the earth that reflect who we are as children of God. In Fratelli Tutti, Francis writes, ‘Once this health crisis passes, our worst response would be to plunge even more deeply into feverish consumerism and new forms of egotistic self-preservation… If only we might rediscover once for all that we need one another, and that in this way our human family can experience a rebirth...Unless we recover the shared passion to create a community of belonging and solidarity worthy of our time, our energy and our resources, the global illusion that misled us will collapse and leave many in the grip of anguish and emptiness (35).’
God’s desire is to transform and transfigure us and all that we offer him. A Maryknoll Lay Missioner, Peg Vamosy writes, ‘All of creation is waiting to see what we humans choose to do. Will we rush back to ‘normal’ patterns of consumerism, convenience, comfort, and indifference to anyone or anything but ourselves, or will we embark on a new path to restore the earth to right relationships, with God, with each other and with all of creation? …[This] should be an opportunity and a time of hope, because we can transform this reality. We don’t have to return to the normal we left behind; we can choose a more fertile ground in which to plant the seeds for the harvest that God wills.’