Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Sacred Paschal Triduum
Thursday of the Lord's Supper (Maundy Thursday) (B)
Between Passion & Action

Picture: cc GokuPhoto

Sisters and brothers, I’m a little embarrassed to say this. But there was a time when I thought that the world was made up of basically two types of people. The hardworking people, and the lazy people. The people who made things happen, and those who simply let things happen to them. The people who strove to achieve success, and those who were content simply to remain failures. I’m not sure where I got this idea from. Perhaps it has something to do with growing up here in Singapore. Where adults would occasionally draw a child’s attention to someone cleaning the streets, but only to to say: You see that person over there? You better study hard, or you’ll end up like that. Like I said, two types of people. The active people, and the passive people. And no prizes for guessing which type I wanted to be.

Active good. Passive bad. Seems like a reasonable idea. Until we allow ourselves to pay close attention to the Mystery we are celebrating today. Today, we celebrate Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion. We celebrate! We glory in the Lord’s Passion! And we should not be mistaken. Here, the word passion does not mean strong emotion. What it does mean is suffering. Here, the word passion has a meaning that is the exact opposite of the word action. Here, to undergo passion is to suffer. To passively allow others to inflict pain on oneself. This is what Jesus undergoes.

In our readings today, Jesus remains shockingly passive. As we heard in the first reading: I made no resistance, neither did I turn away. I offered my back to those who struck me, my cheeks to those who tore at my beard; I did not cover my face against insult and spittle. Shockingly passive. In contrast, it is the enemies of Jesus who appear the most active. The chief priests and the scribes and the elders. These go to great lengths to have Jesus arrested and tortured and killed. And, of course, it is through the actions of the traitor Judas Iscariot, that Jesus is handed over to his enemies.

Should I then say that I was wrong? That it is not active good and passive bad, but the opposite? Passive good and active bad. Perhaps. But we have to be careful what we mean by passive. For, in today’s gospel, Jesus is not the only one who appears to do nothing. We find others as well. But not in a good sense. Consider Pontius Pilate, for example. He knew very well that Jesus was innocent. But he did nothing to help him. He sentenced Jesus to be first scourged and then crucified. And what about the other disciples of Jesus? They who received the Lord’s teaching, and witnessed his miracles. They who ate at his table, and professed their undying loyalty to him. When the crucial moment came, all these friends of Jesus deserted him. Clearly, this is a very different kind of passivity from that of the Lord.

We also have to be careful about what we mean by active. For it is not only the enemies of Jesus who appear active. In Mark’s gospel, which we read just now, we find the moving story of the woman with the alabaster jar of very costly ointment. Disregarding the snide remarks of those around her, this woman courageously anointed Jesus’ body for burial. She acted. But her action is of a very different kind from those of the Lord’s enemies.

So what is the difference, sisters and brothers? What is the difference between the passivity of Jesus, and that of Pilate and the disciples? What is the difference between the activity of the Lord’s enemies and that of the woman with the ointment? The answer, I believe, is to be found in the second reading, where we’re told that Jesus Christ’s state was divine, yet he did not cling to his equality with God but emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave. What is so praiseworthy, what is so glorious, about Jesus’ Passion, is not so much that he simply did nothing–as Pilate and the disciples did nothing–but that he emptied himself for the love of God and of humanity. He emptied himself. Even to accepting death on a cross. And didn’t the woman with the ointment do something similar? Her action was an emptying. Not just of the precious contents of her jar. But also of her very self. She acted in the face of ridicule. She acted, even when it was inconvenient. She acted for the love of Christ.

On the contrary, the passivity of Pilate and the disciples, as well as the activity of the Lord’s enemies, were geared not towards self-emptying, but self-preservation. Pilate did nothing because he wished to keep the peace, and to safeguard his job. The disciples ran away because they feared for their lives. The enemies of Jesus conspired against him because he threatened their religious authority. Active or passive, each of these people were motivated by the need for self-preservation.

Should we say then that the world is made up of two types of people: the self-emptying and the self-preserving? I don’t think so. For we know that the disciples, at least, came to regret their inaction. After Pentecost, they received courage to empty themselves, as their Master had done before them. People change. Perhaps what we can say, then, is not that the world is made up of two different types of people, but rather of two contrasting attitudes. One of self-preservation. And the other of self-emptying. One of selfishness. And the other of love.

Sisters and brothers, which attitude do you find in yourself today?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

5th Sunday in Lent (B)
Not Meant To Be That Easy

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34; Psalm 50:3-4,12-15; Hebrews 5:7-9; John 12:20-33
Picture: cc photofarmer

Sisters and brothers, in one of the Confucian Classics, entitled the Mencius, the story is told of a certain farmer who had planted some seed, and was waiting for his crop to mature. But the seedlings took a long time to grow. And the farmer got impatient. So he decided to help them along. Every morning, he would go out into his field and pull each seedling a little higher up in the soil, so that the seedlings looked taller than before. Needless to say, it didn’t take long before the whole crop died. What the foolish farmer thought was a faster route to maturity, turned out to be a short-cut to ruin. Growth takes time. It cannot be hurried. Some things are just not meant to be that easy.

The farmer’s foolishness is probably quite obvious to us. How could he even entertain the thought that it might be so easy to mature his crops? How could he forget that growth cannot be simply a matter of taller shoots? That it must also involve deeper roots? Some things are just not meant to be that easy. And yet, I sometimes wonder whether we ourselves don’t often fall into a similar forgetfulness.

We live in an information age. The era of social media. Everybody who’s anybody is on Facebook and Twitter. Such that even the Church has jumped onto the social media bandwagon. And this is probably as it should be. The Church needs to be where the people are. How else will the Gospel be preached to the nations. But, even so, it remains important to see that there is a significant risk attached to our use of social media. And I’m not referring to internet security. What is this risk? It is the tendency to forget the principle that the foolish farmer forgot: that some things are just not meant to be that easy.

What social media appears to offer us is exceptional ease of communication and connectivity. At the click of a mouse, you can gain hundreds, even thousands, of friends and fans. And you can broadcast your message to an even bigger number. All it takes is some computer savvy and a good internet connection. It’s as easy as that. Or... is it? Is communication and connectivity really that easy? Almost as easy as tugging on seedlings to make them grow?

If we think so, then we need to pay closer attention to what our Mass readings are telling us on this 5th Sunday in Lent. In the first reading, God too is interested in communication and connectivity. God wishes to communicate God’s love to the people more effectively. To connect with them in a more intimate fashion. To help their relationship with God to grow. But God wishes to do this in a very particular way. God doesn’t seem so interested in increasing the height and breadth of his reach, as important as this may be. Instead, God focuses on the need for greater depth. This is the covenant I will make with the House of Israel when those days arrive – it is the Lord who speaks. Deep within them I will plant my Law, writing it on their hearts. The Law that was a sign of God’s loving relationship with the people. The Law that was given to Moses on Sinai. The Law that was written originally on tablets of stone. This same Law God now promises to inscribe on hearts of flesh.

And we should make no mistake. This transcription of the Law from tablets of stone onto hearts of flesh is no easy task. For it is not just tablets that are made of stone. All too often, we allow our hearts to become stone-like as well. Through the trials that we may encounter in life, or the temptations to which we succumb, our hearts gradually become hardened. All but impervious to God’s Law. We resist God, without even being aware that we’re doing so. We may, for example, continue to abide by the rules of the Church–we may go to Mass; we may fast and abstain in Lent; we may say our prayers–and yet, continue to keep God at a distance. Such that, in order for God’s promise to be fulfilled, our hearts must first be purified. Hardened hearts must be made to crumble and be transformed, once again, into hearts of flesh. And this is no easy task. There is no short-cut available. The other two Mass readings remind us of the terrible yet unavoidable cost involved.

What is required is for the Word of God to be made flesh. To become a human being. And, having become human, when the appropriate hour arrives, to give His life as a ransom for many. In today’s gospel, it is precisely at this crucial moment on his journey that Jesus finally finds himself. Now the hour has come, he proclaims, for the Son of Man to be glorified. By which he refers to his being raised up on the wood of the Cross. For unless a wheat grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.

This is what it takes for stone to become flesh again. This is what it takes for the Law of God to be inscribed on human hearts. For the people to know and to grow in the love and the life of God, the seed of God’s Word-Made-Flesh must first fall on the ground and die. This is the unavoidable cost that must be borne. The terrible price that must be paid. It is no easy task. But, for our sake, and in obedience to his Father, Jesus agrees to bear this burden. He decides to enter through the narrow gate. To walk the difficult way. As the second reading tells us, although he was Son, he learnt to obey through suffering. Such that, having been made perfect, he became for all who obey him the source of eternal salvation.

All this reminds us, sisters and brothers, of the very principle that we tend so easily to forget today, in this media-saturated era in which we live: That there are really no short-cuts to growth in intimacy. No easy paths to authentic communication and true connectivity. If we want real friends, there is no substitute for taking the time and making the effort to engage another in sincere conversation, and even, when the occasion calls for it, in open argument. If we wish to preach the Good News of God’s love for us, there is no substitute for first experiencing it, and being immersed in it ourselves. Even if we have, in some way, to fall on the ground and die. As I heard someone say recently, to give it, you have to live it. Some things are just not meant to be that easy.

The only reason why it so often seems otherwise is because, like the foolish farmer from the Mencius, we have been conditioned to mistake appearances for reality. To think that seedlings are growing just because they seem taller than they were before. To equate the number of hits on websites, or the number of friends on Facebook with true effectiveness in ministry. This tendency is but a sign of our times. As the current Superior General of the Society of Jesus has so astutely observed, ours is not just the era of social media. It is, alas, also characterized by the globalization of superficiality.

Sisters and brothers, contrary to what we may be conditioned to think, authentic communication and real connectivity are not just about faster computers and increased bandwidth. Some things are just not meant to be that easy. True growth in the life and love of God is a narrow gate, and a difficult road. It is, ultimately, a matter of life and death. It involves our immersion into the Dying and Rising of Christ. Which we have gathered here this evening to celebrate.

Sisters and brothers, how ready are you to enter this difficult but life-giving Mystery today?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

4th Sunday in Lent (B)
Between the Living and the Dead

Readings: 2 Chronicles 36:14-16,19-23; Psalm 136:1-6; Ephesians 2:4-10; John 3:14-21

Sisters and brothers, are you familiar with the 1999 film entitled The Sixth Sense? It stars Haley Joel Osment as Cole, a boy who is troubled by a secret ability. He sees dead people. Not dead bodies in hospitals, or mortuaries, or coffins. But dead people, who continue to walk around as though they were still alive. Dead people, who don’t know that they are dead. Dead people, like the teenage girl who keeps showing up and vomiting, because she was poisoned by her mother. Or the boy who walks around with a bloody hole in the back of his head, where his father shot him, before committing suicide. Dead people, who terrify and torment poor Cole, because they insist on talking to him, and telling him their stories.

Only later does Cole gradually come to realise that these dead people actually need his help. All of them are trapped by something in their past. Some unfinished business that prevents them from moving on. And it’s only when Cole summons up the courage to listen to their stories, that he is somehow able to help them to find release. To find freedom.

Dead people, walking around like regular people. Dead people who don’t know that they’re already dead. I know. Sounds pretty far-fetched doesn’t it? Sounds like what you’d find only in a horror movie, but not in real life. And yet, isn’t there something similar in our scripture readings today?

In our first reading, for example, don’t we find a description of a nation that only appears to be alive, but is, in fact, already dead? For the people of Israel, their worship in the Jerusalem Temple and their occupation of the land in Palestine were central to their identity as a people. But the Babylonians had destroyed the Temple, demolished the walls of Jerusalem, and deported Israel to Babylon. So that although the people continued to live on as individuals in exile, they were dead as a nation. They were dead people, who continued to walk around in a foreign land as though they were still alive.

But that’s not all. Even before this political dying had overtaken them, the people had already been suffering from another, even more serious, form of death. Again, the reading describes this quite vividly. Even before the Babylonians destroyed the Temple, the people themselves had desecrated it with various idolatrous practices that they had copied from those living around them. Not only had they defiled God’s house by worshipping other gods within its precincts, they also refused to listen to the prophets that God had sent to persuade them to change their ways. So that, before dying politically, at the hands of the Babylonians, the people of Israel had already inflicted upon themselves a spiritual death. Even while they were still living in their own land in Palestine, they were already in spiritual exile. Trapped in the darkness of their idolatry. They were dead people, who continued to walk around like the living. Dead people, who just didn’t know that they were already dead.

And, like the dead people in the movie, Israel could do nothing to help herself. She needed a saviour. Someone who was willing and able to release her, to help her to find freedom. In the first reading, God raises up the Persian king, Cyrus, to fulfil this role. Upon coming to power, Cyrus releases the exiles and encourages them to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. Through Cyrus, the trapped find release. The dead begin to come to life.

We find a similar pattern in the other two readings as well. As it turns out, it is not just the ancient people of Israel who were dead. It is the whole human race. It is all of us. You and I. As the second reading tells us, we were dead through our sins. We may have continued to walk around as though we were alive. But we were, in fact, already dead. We were trapped in our selfishness. Our lives revolving only around our own narrow concerns and interests. Unable to find release. Like the exiled Israelites of the first reading, we needed a saviour. Cyrus was raised up for them. Jesus was sent for us. He was lifted up on the wood of the Cross, just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

Which is why we observe this great season of Lent. To prepare ourselves to renew our baptismal promises. The promises by which we die to our sins, and are raised to life in Christ. To prepare ourselves to be sprinkled once again with the healing waters flowing from the pierced side of the Crucified Christ. We spend this precious time recalling what it’s like to be dead people. To be walking around as though we were alive when, in fact, we are already dead. We spend this time reminding ourselves of how easy it is to be dead and not even know it. So easy to act as though our lives were filled to overflowing with so many different things. So many items of business. Even apparently pious business. And yet still feel so strangely empty and restless. So busy. And yet so lifeless.

Sadly, isn’t this what we see around us all too often? People who may appear, externally, to be in the pink of health and wealth. Beautiful, well-dressed, well-to-do people. But, whose actions often make it clear that they are really already dead. That, for various reasons and in different ways, they have been conditioned to care for nothing and no one other than what’s in it for me, myself, and mine. Isn’t it also true that even marriages and families, careers and even religious vocations like mine can become this way as well? Only going through the motions of life. But actually already quite dead. Dead people, who just don’t know yet that they are already dead. Dead people who can’t help themselves. Dead people in dire need of someone to help them.

All of which should give greater impetus to our Lenten discipline. For we Christians undergo the rigours of Lent not just for ourselves. We prepare to renew our baptismal promises not just so that we can enjoy eternal life ourselves. We do so, also because we know that the light of Christ is given not just to us, but also through us to others. Like the boy Cole in The Sixth Sense, we too are somehow gifted with the ability to see dead people, but only so that we can help them to find release. To help them to encounter the Crucified and Risen Christ, the God-given saviour, in whom is to be found the fullness of life.

Sisters and brothers, on this fourth Sunday of Lent, do you see any dead people around you, people who need your help today?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

3rd Sunday in Lent (B)
Between the Words & the Song

Readings: Exodus 20:1-3,7-8,12-17; Psalm 18:8-11; 1 Corinthians 1:22-25; John 2:13-25
Picture: cc xXxRawrKidRawrxXx

Sisters and brothers, I’m quite sure that you’ve heard stories about genies. Those spirits that grant wishes to people. But have you also heard stories where the genie somehow fails to give the master what he wants? Have you heard, for instance, of the man who tells his genie that he wants to become attractive to women everywhere? In response, the genie turns the guy into... a bar of chocolate. Or how about the middle-aged couple, who meet a genie while on vacation? When asked for their request, the husband looks at his ageing wife and proceeds to wish for a much younger travelling companion. Immediately, there’s a puff of smoke, after which the guy discovers that he himself has suddenly aged 20 years. These stories are not always funny, though. Sometimes they can also be very tragic. Like the one about the woman who tells her genie that she wants to strike it rich. She gets her wish. She receives a million dollars of insurance money when her parents are killed in a plane crash.

Quite obviously these stories contain a moral for those who make wishes. The moral being, be careful what you wish for. But could there also be a moral for those trying to fulfil the wishes of others? A moral for genies? I think there is. To discover this moral, we need to consider how the genies in those stories fall short. At one level, they do seem to fulfil their masters’ wishes. The first person becomes attractive to women. The second gets a much younger companion. And the third does indeed strike it rich. But, at another level, those genies do not actually give their masters what they want. The genies listen only to what their masters say, but not to what they mean. If we were to think of each wish as a song, we might say that the genies listen only to the words, but ignore the music. And, of course, a song without music is not a song. Hence the moral: if you truly desire to fulfil your master’s wishes, take care to listen, not just to the words that are said, but also to the music of the song the master is singing.

It’s good for us to be mindful of this moral today, because, on this 3rd Sunday of Lent, our Mass readings remind us of God’s wishes for us, what God wants of us. God’s wishes are heard quite plainly in the first reading, where God imparts the 10 Commandments to Moses: You shall have no gods except me. You shall not utter the name of the Lord to misuse it. Remember the sabbath day. Honour your father and mother. And so on. Sisters and brothers, we know all these commandments very well. Or at least we think we do. But do we really? Or could it be possible to keep the 10 Commandments literally, but still fail to fulfil God’s intentions for imparting them to us? Could it be possible that our performance is often like that of those genies? We heed the words, but neglect the music? We miss the song?

When God first imparts the 10 Commandments to Moses in the first reading, God states quite plainly the reason for doing so. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. God’s intention, God’s wish, is that the people be free from all forms of slavery and oppression. And the way to attain this freedom is for them to surrender themselves to God alone. This is what the commandments are for. They provide the means by which people can submit themselves to God, and so become truly free. Such that, if we were to think of God’s wishes as a song, then the commandments are the words, and freedom the music. To fulfil God’s wish, to truly sing the song, it’s important to heed both music and words. We’re called to act as the commandments require. But in a way that makes us truly free. Otherwise, we may end up frustrating God, the way those genies frustrated their masters.

All of which should help us to understand a little better why Jesus gets so angry in today’s gospel. The Jewish religious authorities take pride in their own strict observance of the Law. And yet, throughout his public ministry, Jesus continually finds them falling short of fulfilling God’s wishes. Instead of leading people to freedom, these men burden others with all sorts of rules and regulations that serve only to defeat God’s intentions. They oppress people rather than make them truly free. And, in today’s gospel, instead of preserving the Temple as a sacred place for people to encounter God, these men condone the buying and selling of various apparently religious items there. They allow God’s house to be contaminated, and God’s people to be oppressed, by the attitudes and practices of the marketplace. Not unlike the genies in our stories, these leaders fall short of fulfilling their Master’s wishes, because they are familiar only with the words. They haven’t quite heard the music.

And their lack of familiarity with the music of God becomes even clearer to us, when we hear them demand that Jesus justify his actions by showing them a sign. Throughout his public ministry Jesus has been performing great signs. He has changed water into wine. He has multiplied bread for thousands to eat. He has even raised the dead. And yet, the leaders continue to ask for a sign. They do this because they are unable, or unwilling, to recognise Jesus himself as the ultimate Sign. Which is why Jesus tells them that there is really only one sign given by God: Jesus’ own Dying on the Cross, and Rising to life on the third day. Destroy this sanctuary–the sanctuary of my body–and in three days I will raise it up. In his own Dying and Rising, Jesus demonstrates for us what true freedom looks and feels like. The freedom of One who submits so humbly to the will of God, that He is willing to lay down His life so that others may be free.

But, of course, the Jewish leaders fail to understand what Jesus means. They continue to ignore the music of freedom that Jesus embodies. They cannot bring themselves to believe in him, to sing his song, because they remain too attached to the words. They are clinging too tightly to their need for signs. But we Christians are called to be different. As St. Paul tells us in the second reading, while the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom, we preach a crucified Christ, who is, for us, the power and the wisdom of God.

And isn’t this what Lent is really about? It’s not just about finding ever stricter ways to keep the Law. Not just about laying down ever more regulations to follow. Not just about dietary rules and dress codes. Rather, above all, it is about preparing ourselves to enter more deeply into the mystery of Christ’s Dying and Rising. The same mystery that we celebrate at this Eucharist. A mystery that requires us to recognise more clearly the different things in our lives and in our world today that may continue to oppress people. Things that hinder people from encountering God. And in recognising these things, to do what we can to remove them, so that we and others may truly be free. It is only in this way that we can begin to fulfil the wishes of God. Only in this way that we can begin to hear not just the words, but also the music.

Sisters and brothers, how might the Lord be inviting us to enter more deeply, to sing more wholeheartedly, God’s song of freedom today?

Saturday, March 03, 2012

2nd Sunday in Lent (B)
Piecing the Puzzle

Readings: Genesis 9:8-15; Psalm 24:4-6,7-9; 1 Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:12-15
Picture: cc bgottsab

Sisters and brothers, do you remember the last time you tried to assemble a jigsaw puzzle? What was it like? To be honest, I myself sometimes find it helpful to work on jigsaw puzzles. Especially when I’m on retreat. There’s something comforting about starting out with a messy jumble of disconnected pieces, and then gradually coming to see how each piece joins with the others to form a single picture. It’s not just a pleasant diversion. I find that the process of assembling the puzzle actually mirrors what often happens in the retreat itself. You take the messy jumble of the different, apparently disconnected, pieces of your life to prayer, and the Lord gradually shows you how each piece joins with the others to form something meaningful.

But it’s not always easy. As you know, there’s a certain technique involved in assembling a puzzle. For example, to see if one piece matches another one, it’s usually not enough just to compare the pictures printed on them. Very often, pieces with pictures that look the same, don’t really match. And pieces that may at first look very different, actually do. In addition to comparing the pictures, you also have to look closely at the edges of each piece. You have to see if the edges of this particular piece line up with those of that other one.

I mention this because, today, our Mass readings present us with two pictures that may at first seem to have little connection with each other. They appear radically different. Completely unrelated. In the first reading, we find Abraham and Isaac on a mountain called Moriah. This is not an easy place to be. For it is on Moriah that God chooses to test Abraham. Here, Abraham is to sacrifice Isaac, his only legitimate son. Isaac, his beloved child, who was born only when Abraham was already a hundred years old. Isaac, the long-awaited heir, through whom God had promised to make Abraham’s family a great nation. It was Isaac, this precious treasure, that God was asking Abraham to sacrifice. This was what made Moriah such a terrible place.

And, of course, Moriah is not just a place in the life of Abraham. It is also a location in each of our lives as well. From time to time, things happen to us that make it necessary for us to sacrifice what we may hold most dear. Events transpire that force us to face the same difficult question with which Abraham had to struggle: Who or what do I value more? Who or what occupies the first place in my life? The precious gifts of God? Or God Himself, the Giver of all good gifts?

But, as terrible as it may be, Moriah is not the only mountain in our readings today. The gospel presents us with another. Tradition has given it the name Tabor. And Tabor appears to be a very different place from Moriah. If Moriah is the mountain of testing and struggle, Tabor is the place of consolation and glory. Here, Jesus is transfigured. His clothes become dazzlingly white. He takes on the appearance of pure light. And his heavenly Father draws near and bears witness to who he is, to Jesus’ true identity: This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to him.

It’s very likely that we have been on this mountain before. We too have experienced something like what Jesus and the three disciples experienced. Whether it was at a group retreat, or during a quiet moment of personal prayer. While enjoying a peaceful evening at home, or while vacationing at an exotic foreign location. It’s likely that we too have experienced similar moments of joy and enthusiasm. Moments when not only did we receive assurance that we were on the right path, but also when we were blessed with the courage to persevere in walking along it. Moments that filled us with hope.

Moriah in the first reading. And Tabor in the gospel. Sacrifice and testing on the one hand. And hope and encouragement on the other. Sisters and brothers, could these two places appear any more different one from the other?

And yet, as disconnected from each other as Moriah and Tabor may seem to be, our readings offer them to us as two pieces of a single puzzle. How could this be? As with the pieces of any jigsaw, to see the connection between them, we need to consider more closely their respective edges. We need to see, for example, that although Moriah begins as a place of testing for Abraham, it ends as a location of deep consolation. Abraham’s obedience leads God to renew the promise to shower blessings upon him, and to make his descendants as many as the stars of heaven and the grains of sand on the seashore.

It is not just on Moriah that we find such a reversal. At the edges of Tabor too, we find something more than what at first meets the eye. As Jesus descends the mountain with his disciples, he warns them to tell no one what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. As the Lord climbs down from Tabor, he speaks to his disciples about Calvary. Clearly, the Transfiguration is closely connected with the Cross. In glorifying his only begotten Son on Tabor, the Father prepares him to be given up for us on Calvary. Like the ram, in the first reading, which was sacrificed in place of Isaac, Jesus would be offered up in our place. As the second reading reminds us, God did not spare his own Son, but gave him up to benefit us all.

But the three disciples accompanying Jesus do not see this close connection. At this point in the story, they are able to see only one piece of the puzzle. They do not know what rising from the dead means. They fail to realise that the hope and encouragement they are given on Tabor is meant for a very particular purpose. The disciples are permitted to witness Jesus’ glory, and to hear the Father’s voice, so that they might be given the strength and courage to accompany their Master to Calvary. The Transfiguration is for the Cross. And, in failing to connect these two pieces of the puzzle, the disciples deprive themselves of the precious spiritual resources that they will need for the road ahead.

Unfortunately, sisters and brothers, what is true of the disciples is also often true of us as well. Even though we may all experience both moments of testing as well as moments of hope, we somehow neglect to connect the two. We fail to channel the energy gained in our times of Transfiguration towards addressing the needs we experience during our moments of trial. Times when we are most in need of encouragement and hope. Times when we may doubt God’s love for us. Or even God’s very existence. Times when we may be tempted to give up in despair.

If this is indeed true of us, then we have reason to be happy. For on this second Sunday of Lent, God is offering us a very significant gift. Today, we are offered the grace to recognise the deep connection between our trials on the one hand, and the encouragement that comes to us in Christ Jesus our Lord on the other. Today, we are being given the courage, even the audacity, to proclaim the words of St. Paul: with God on our side who can be against us?

Sisters and brothers, in the complex puzzle of our daily living, how is the Lord helping us to connect the pieces today?
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