Sunday Scriptures

Taking the Next, Challenging Step

by Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J. 

“GO FORTH … TO a land that I will show you (Genesis) … Bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.” (2 Tim)

These words of the Lord are a promise, a challenge and a comfort. Some know, as readers of this column, that I often follow a statement like that with: “simple but not easy!” These words founded on God’s Word: “Go forth… bear… trust … run the race… believe…get up… do not be afraid… serve… bless, etc.” are so often filtered by our limited and compromised human natures and ears.

Grace, Revelation, Responsibility

Last Sunday, we saw how our human hearts are often plagued with the temptations of “comfort zones, weakness and sin, traps and lures” which entangle and trip up our lives, our “sprints” and our spirits on the journey. Today, we witness moments of amazing grace, wondrous revelation and awesome responsibility. Grace needs always to be followed by a “next step.”

The Genesis reading shows God taking Abram “outside” (of himself, his plans for old age, his kinfolk and their belief systems, his limited views of God’s presence and working in his life and in the place he called home). God invites him to a new place and a look at the bigger picture: “I will make of you a great nation … I will bless you … your name will be great and be a great blessing to all the communities of the earth.”

New Covenant

This account and call of God is the “making of a people” – God’s chosen. While it was a covenant with Abraham (a new name), it was an even greater promise of salvation for the people of God. God’s working in Abraham gave new birth to “the father of many nations.”

Throughout this earth, Jewish sisters and brothers; Muslim men, women and children; Christians everywhere, and we, their Catholic brothers and sisters, look to and call upon Abraham, Avrom, Ibrahim (peace be upon him) as our common “father in the faith.” Many nations, all communities of the earth, pray and see in him a man who grew in a personal relationship with God – one which was far beyond his own limits. We, his descendants, are all called to that personal relationship and to radiate God’s presence in our lives and in this world.

This Sunday’s second reading prepares us and bears a direct connect to the day’s Gospel. Matthew’s Gospel is often uniquely addressed – directed toward those called to leadership (to ministry by one’s service and action). Matthew holds up a teaching or corrective for what might appear to be a sense of superiority by the leaders or learned scholars.

Teacher, Leader, Rabboni

In today’s Gospel, we are reminded Who it is Who is Teacher, Leader, Rabboni. All three Gospels, Mark, Luke and Matthew place the Transfiguration after Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ,” after Jesus’ prediction of His passion and death, His promise of a second coming and the reveal of “the cost of discipleship.”

Then, while still reeling and dealing with these learnings, with personal fears, temptations and questions in their school of transformation, Peter, James and John are “chosen” for a more powerful lesson and “next step.”

Today, we’re called to absorb the experience and message for our own lives. This major “turning point” in Jesus’ life, this transfiguration is seen here as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Jesus is Messiah and shows His friends/disciples – and us – that this Tabor mountain experience is meant to prepare us for a more challenging, but life-giving one: Calvary mountain.

View from Tabor, Calvary

David Garland in “Reading Matthew” helps us to plunge the depth of this “preparation.” As we look back, we see on the mountain of Transfiguration Jesus is surrounded by hero-saints of old. On Calvary, He is surrounded by criminals. On Tabor, Jesus’ clothes shine as white as light and on Calvary, they are torn from His body in disgrace. At the transfiguration, the Divine Voice proclaims Jesus as Son. The executioners at Calvary do the same at His murder; they too proclaim: “Truly this was the Son of God!”

So on this Second Sunday we, too, are called to absorb the experience and message of these mountains, of Abraham’s journey with God, of Paul’s counsel to “bear our share of the hardships for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

These are the lessons for our own lives, not just in the lives of “our ancestors in the faith” or those first followers and disciples.

Let us journey with Jesus, with God’s elect and with each other as we pray: “Lord, let your mercy be on us as we place our trust in You.”

Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent

Genesis 12: 1-4A

Psalm 33: 4-5, 18-19, 20, 22

2 Timothy 1: 8B-10

Matthew 17: 1-9

Sister Karen Cavanagh, C.S.J., a trained spiritual director and retreat facilitator, is a pastoral associate/family minister at St. Nicholas of Tolentine parish, Jamaica.