Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Destiny of Leftovers

2nd Sunday of Lent (C)

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

My dear friends, I hope you don’t mind me asking, but what does your family do with yesterday’s food? What do you do when it’s time to prepare lunch or dinner, and you find your fridge full of leftovers? What are your options? Apart from giving it all away, you have at least three choices, right? The first two are quite simple. One, reheat what you have and serve it again. Keep eating today, exactly what you had yesterday. Two, discard it all, and cook a fresh batch of food.

But can you guess what the third option is? It’s something that some home-cooks do very well. They take yesterday’s food and transform it into something just as appetising, and even more delicious. So appetising and delicious that we may not even realise we’re eating leftovers. So plain rice might be transformed into tasty fried rice. Steamed chicken might reappear covered in a savoury gravy of oyster sauce…

To retain… to discard… or to transform. These are three of the options we have when dealing with leftover food. And, in our Mass readings today, we find similar ways of dealing with something else. As you’ve probably noticed, each of our readings directs our attention to heaven. In the first reading, God tells Abram to look up to heaven… In the second reading, St Paul tells the Philippians that our homeland is in heaven… And, in the gospel, the apostles Peter, John and James are given a preview of the Lord’s heavenly glory.

But this focus on heaven presents us with a very important question. A question not unlike the one we have to consider when faced with a fridge full of leftover food. For if our ultimate goal is to live blissfully in heaven, then what are we to do with all the things of earth? How should we deal with our possessions, for example, or even our own bodies?

In the second reading, St Paul criticises people who choose the first option. People who keep clinging to earthly realities. People who want to keep eating worldly food, when they should be preparing to feast on heavenly delicacies. They are destined to be lost. They make foods into their god… the things they think important are earthly things. 

And don’t we know what this feels like? Aren’t we familiar with the experience of being so engrossed in the attractions and anxieties of daily living that we forget our Christian belief that here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come (Hb 13:14)? We have a name for this kind of attitude, don’t we? We call it being materialistic.

And yet, even if we should not cling to earthly things, neither should we discard them completely either. As we may do with leftover food. Isn’t this what Peter tries to do in the gospel? Awestruck by the vision of the Lord’s glory, Peter proposes to build three tents on the mountain, so that they can remain there, and forsake everything else down below. But he doesn’t get the chance to put his plan into action. For what does the reading tell us regarding the conversation between Jesus and Moses and Elijah? It says they were speaking of the Lord’s passing which he was to accomplish, not on the mountain, but in Jerusalem. The Lord attains his glory only by first making a journey down the mountain, back to the earthly realities below.

And yet, which of us has not sometimes felt like Peter? Wishing we could somehow escape the duties and responsibilities, the trials and tribulations of this earthly life. Isn’t this why some of us indulge in various bad habits, which then develop into troublesome addictions? Isn’t this why an increasing number of our young people find life so meaningless and boring as to think of ending it all? Isn’t this also why the more pious among us may devote much time to prayer, but pay little attention to lending a hand to the poor, or speaking on behalf of the voiceless, or working to make our lifestyles more conducive to the preservation of mother earth?

But if we Christians are called neither simply to retain nor to discard earthly realities, then what are we to do? How are we to relate to them? This is the question that our readings help us to ponder on this Second Sunday of Lent. This is the deeper meaning of the Transfiguration. For what is transfigured on the mountain, what is transformed, what is changed into glory, is the Lord’s earthly body. Which he does not discard, but rather allows to take on a heavenly brilliance. And, as Paul reminds us, what happens to the Lord’s body, is meant to happen also to these wretched bodies of ours. And, indeed, to the whole material universe. Everything is to be transfigured, transformed into copies of God’s only Son.

What does this mean? How does it come about? Earthly realities are transfigured into heavenly ones when we see them no longer as prizes to be fought over, or burdens to be discarded. Rather, we need to look at them the way Abram is asked to consider the Promised Land. As an inheritance freely bequeathed by a loving God, who binds us to himself in a  Covenant, a loving relationship modelled on the one that Jesus has with his heavenly Father. Isn’t this why the Father reminds us that, This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him? Earthly realities are transfigured into heavenly ones, when we relate to the Father the way Jesus does. This is how these familiar words we pray every day find their fulfilment: your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Isn’t this why we need this great season of Lent? Why we fast and pray and give alms? Not just to make ourselves uncomfortable, but so that we continue to learn to relate with material things in the same way that Christ did. Seeing God in all things, and all things in God.

For we Christians are called neither simply to retain nor to discard the world, but rather to work to allow it to be transfigured by the love of God made visible to us in Christ.

Sisters and brothers, how will you be doing this today?

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