2nd Sunday of Lent:
2nd Sunday of Lent: What is the Goal?
One of the first things a new teacher learns is that you need to start with a clear idea of where you want to end up. If we’re not clear on what we want our students to learn, then our efforts will be misdirected and wasted. When we plan our lessons, we choose activities and resources that are most likely to bring our students to that outcome. Not only that, we need to stay focused on that outcome as we progress through the lesson.
But that’s not all. I remember very clearly my first day as a teacher some three and a half decades ago. One of the religious brothers for whom I was working told me: “Always remember, take your students where they are right now, then bring them up to where you want them to be.” We need to start with the real world, not our ideal reality. We need to recognize the true state of affairs.
Look to the Stars
Today’s readings do something of the same thing. In the first reading from Genesis (15:5-12, 17-18). The Lord has taken Abram, who is elderly and childless, out to show him the stars.
“Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can.
Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.”
God also promises Abram the possession of the land in which he is living, to which he has come as a dispossessed stranger. Abram asks the Lord:
“O Lord GOD,” he asked,
“how am I to know that I shall possess it?”
God directs him to offer up a curious sacrifice which involves cutting the bodies of the victims in two and leaving a space between them. Having done so, Abram waits patiently for God to act. His patience is rewarded by a supernatural breaking through of Divine Power when a fire appears and passes between the split carcasses of the animals. This manifestation of God’s power is a sign to Abram that his patience will be rewarded.
The Gospel reading for the 2nd Sunday of Lent also involves a breaking through of the Divine Promise into the world of the here and now. Luke describes the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mt. Tabor (9:28b-36). The glimpse of the Glorified Christ, accompanied by Moses and Elijah, is a powerful promise to Peter, John, and James of a much greater reality toward which they are working. But here we also see a warning: the Glorified Jesus is talking to Moses and Elijah “of his exodusthat he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” That is, his Passion and death. The Transfiguration is not a reality, yet, for Jesus’ disciples. There is still the Mystery of the Cross.
The first and last readings remind us of the objective, the “where we want to go.” The second reading, from St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (3:17—4:1), reminds us of the reality from which we’re starting out:
For many, as I have often told you
and now tell you even in tears,
conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ.
Their end is destruction.
Their God is their stomach;
their glory is in their “shame.”
Their minds are occupied with earthly things.
The God of Our Stomach
That is, to some degree, all of us. We all face the temptations of the “god” of our “stomach,” which represents our appetites, not just for food, put for earthly pleasures, possessions and powers. If we let those things be our gods, and therefore set our goals, our end can only be destruction.
St. Paul offers us instead the divine objection we see more vividly in the other readings:
But our citizenship is in heaven,
and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
He will change our lowly body
to conform with his glorified body . . .
The disciplines of Lent are intended to give us a concrete reminder that we need to say “no” to the god of our stomach. The few brief weeks of the penitential season represent the brief span of our life here in this world. Today, when we are still near the beginning of our Lenten journey, we are reminded of the glorious goal that lies at the end . . . if we persevere. We need the patience and faith of Abram, and we need to keep our eyes on the prize.