Sunday, February 24, 2013

2nd Sunday in Lent (C)
When the Going Gets Tough

Readings: Genesis 15:5-12,17-18; Psalm 26:1,7-9,13-14; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28-36

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Sisters and brothers, I think we’re all probably familiar with this line. It tells us what tough people do when faced with challenging situations. What do the strong do when the going gets tough? Well, they get going. Of course, this doesn’t mean that they were standing still before. What it does mean is that, when they encounter difficult and demanding situations, tough people are able to increase their efforts. They somehow manage to raise their energy levels and push through. Much like how someone driving a car might switch to a more powerful gear to climb a steep slope. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Sounds simple enough in theory. But it’s not always easy to put into practice, is it? For one thing, it’s not always easy to locate the gear stick, let alone know how to switch gears. Also, it’s not always clear from where we are to find the energy we need to face life’s challenges. Especially if the routine of daily living has already tired us out completely. How do we actually get going when, for example, a cherished relationship breaks down despite our best efforts to salvage it? Or when multiple job applications get rejected. Or when the doctors say there is nothing more they can do to cure an illness. Or when enthusiastic attempts to help the poor and the oppressed seem to lead to nothing but disappointment and disillusionment. In these and other challenging situations, how does one go about hanging tough? How does one actually keep going?

These are among the questions that our Mass readings invite us to reflect upon today. For, although it may not be so obvious, the going is getting noticeably tougher for some of the people in our readings. When we meet him in the first reading, taken from the 15th chapter of the book of Genesis, Abram is on a journey that God had commanded him to make. In chapter 12, God had asked Abram to uproot his family from the comforts of home and to set out for a distant unknown place. And the journey up till now has not been easy. Wars have had to be fought. A close family unit has had to break up and go separate ways. And, above all, Abram and his wife remain childless. What are they to do? How are they to survive this long difficult journey into the unknown without an heir to carry on the family name?

In the gospel too, the going is getting tougher for Jesus and his disciples. The reading is taken from verses 28-36 of the 9th chapter of Luke’s gospel. Immediately before this, in verses 21-27, Jesus had just told his disciples that he would soon have to undergo great suffering. He would be rejected, put to death, and then raised to life on the third day. Not only that, but Jesus had also made clear that the mark of a true disciple of his is the willingness to take up one’s own cross daily and follow him. For Jesus and his disciples the going is indeed getting very tough. Before them looms the steep and scary slope of suffering and death on the Cross.

And yet, as tough as it gets, neither Abram nor Jesus turn away from their respective journeys. Neither of them try to escape. They keep on going. How do they manage to do this? From where do they find the strength to press on? We discover their secret by considering three crucial changes that they undergo during this time of crisis. Changes that God leads each of them to make.

The first is a change in location. In the first reading, we’re told that God led Abram outside. And, in the gospel, Jesus leads Peter, James and John up the mountain to pray. Although these may seem like unimportant, inconsequential details, they really are very significant. For it is only because of their willingness to make this change in location that both Abram and Jesus are able to receive a renewed vision.

Having allowed God to lead him outside his tent, Abram is able to look up and gaze upon the countless number of stars twinkling in the night sky. And then to receive from God, the awesome promise that Abram’s descendants will be just as numerous. Similarly, having allowed himself to be led up the mountain, Jesus experiences a reassuring vision of the true meaning of all the terrible things he will soon have to endure. Although others may see him only as a condemned criminal or a religious heretic, Jesus is reminded that in undergoing his Passion, death and Resurrection he will be fulfilling both the Law and the Prophets. And that even if he may, at some point, feel that his heavenly Father has deserted him, Jesus is still the beloved Son, the Chosen One. To whom all must listen if they wish to find life.

And it is from this renewed vision of the future that both Abram and Jesus strengthen their resolve to continue walking the respective paths that God has marked out for them. Abram and his descendants to the Promised Land. And Jesus and his disciples to the Cross and beyond.

A change of location, leading to a renewed vision, and a strengthening of resolve. These are the three changes that Abram and Jesus undergo in our readings today. This is the secret to how they manage to find the courage to press on even in the face of formidable challenges. And isn’t this, sisters and brothers, also what we hope will happen to us in this season of Lent?

During this time of prayer and fasting and almsgiving, are we not also trying to change our location in some way? Although we may not actually step outside a tent, or climb a high mountain, we are trying to make an important shift. A shift between the two spiritual locations that Paul talks about in the second reading. The first location is where we find those behaving as the enemies of the cross of Christ. Those destined to be lost. Those who make their home only in earthly things. In contrast, the second location is where the true disciples of Christ are found. Those whose homeland is in heaven. And, in making this shift from preoccupation with earthly things to making heaven our homeland, we hope to receive a new vision of where God is leading us in our daily lives, so that we too may have the strength to follow Christ on the way of the Cross. And allow him to transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Sisters and brothers, on this 2nd Sunday of Lent, how might the Lord be keeping you going today?


  1. Indeed, when the tough challenges come like an unexpected tsunami that hits at the most unexpected time and hour, i am left totally helpless and completely vulnerable...

    yet, somehow, with the help of God, as i learn to look UP to God who has allowed this disaster/calamity/rude shock (another reality in my life) to happen; i can only surrender humbly to God and ask HIM for HIS STRENGTH and HIS GRACE to cope/manage and survive through this very tough and painful time for as long as it it is to last...for i know that if i were to manage on my own strength - this would only lead to "doom and gloom". to more pains and more messes... and eventually, i may sink into the whirlpool of self-pity and....

    St Augustine says "only in God do i find peace" and indeed, this is very true for me at this time of crisis...

    in our times of pains and challenges, may we learn to focus on GOD, and not on ourselves so that God may have the room and space to lift us out and up of this darkness..

    like Solomon, i only ask God for wisdom and prudence to know how best to live and dwell in God's love and grace - and also for the courage to dare to trust God, even in my moments of the deepest darkness.

    Lord, may YOU increase as i decrease. Amen.

    Pax et Bonum

    1. indeed, life is hard, at such challenging, i can't help but feel so alone as i carry my cross.. (even though my friends and those who are have not left me..)

      God is with us all the time yet in our limitations and in our "blindness" due to our preoccupations with SELF and with our hurts; we may not even SEE nor be able to sense God present in and amongst us; just as Mary Magdalene failed to recognise the Risen Christ on the first Easter Sunday...

      yet, with the eyes of faith and a heart who desire to believe; may i ask God to show me HIS LIGHT, HIS LOVE and HIS HAND, even in my moments of deepest darkness..

      indeed, our God is a God of HOPE.

      God is MOST PRESENT when He seems absent - paradoxical though this may sound...

      in my moments of deepest darkness and inconsolable pains, may i dare to TRUST GOD and to reach UP to God who is ever ready to SAVE me and to LIFT ME UP and OUT of my darkness to restore me to HIS WONDERFUL LIGHT & LOVE.

      this Lent, may i grow aware of God working actively and ceaselessly in my life.

      May i dare to continue to trust God who knows me better than i ever know myself and to let God be God in my life.

      Lord, may YOU INCREASE, as i decrease.

      Pax et Bonum


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