Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Scripture Reflections: The Second Sunday of Lent

First Reading: Genesis 15: 5-12, 17-18

Then God took Abram out of doors, and said to him, Look up at the sky, and count, if thou canst, the stars in it; thy race, like these, shall be numberless. So Abram put his faith in God, and it was reckoned virtue in him.
            And now God said to him, I am the Lord, who brought thee out from Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee possession of this land instead. And when he asked, Lord God, what assurance may I have, that it is mine? The Lord answered, Bring me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old she-goat, and a three-year-old ram, and a turtle-dove, and a pigeon. All these he brought to him, and cut them in half, laying the two halves of each on opposite sides, except the dove and the pigeon; he did not divide these. The whole day long Abram stood there, driving away the carrion-birds as they swooped down on the carcases; but when the sun set, deep sleep fell upon him, and in the darkness a great dread assailed him.
            So the sun went down, and when the darkness of night came on, a smoking furnace was seen, a torch of fire that passed between the pieces of flesh. And the Lord, that day, made a covenant with Abram; I will grant this land, he told him, to thy posterity, with its borders reaching up to the river of Egypt, and the great river Euphrates;

Second Reading: Phillippians 3:17-4:1

            Be content, brethren, to follow my example, and mark well those who live by the pattern we have given them; I have told you often, and now tell you again with tears, that there are many whose lives make them the enemies of Christ’s cross. Perdition is the end that awaits them, their own hungry bellies are the god they worship, their own shameful doings are their pride; their minds are set on the things of earth; whereas we find our true home in heaven. It is to heaven that we look expectantly for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ to save us; he will form this humbled body of ours anew, moulding it into the image of his glorified body, so effective is his power to make all things obey him.
            Then, O my brethren, so greatly loved and longed for, all my delight and prize, stand firmly in the Lord, beloved, as I bid you.

Gospel: Luke 9:28-36

            Jesus took Peter and John and James with him, and went up on to the mountain-side to pray. And even as he prayed, the fashion of his face was altered, and his garments became white and dazzling; and two men appeared conversing with him, Moses and Elias, seen now in glory; and they spoke of the death which he was to achieve at Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Peter and his companions were sunk in sleep; and they awoke to see him in his glory, and the two men standing with him. And, just as these were parting from him, Peter said to Jesus, Master, it is well that we should be here; let us make three tents in this place, one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias. But he spoke at random: and even as he said it, a cloud formed, overshadowing them; they saw those others disappear into the cloud, and were terrified. And a voice came from the cloud, This is my beloved Son; to him, then, listen. And as the voice sounded, Jesus was discovered alone. They kept silence, and at the time said nothing of what they had seen to anybody.


            “Their own hungry bellies are the god they worship; their own shameful doings are their pride; their minds are set on the things of Earth.”
            Not to put too fine a point on it, but sound familiar? Sounds to me a lot like ‘personal discovery’ and ‘Gay pride’ (hey, they even use the same word!), and ‘social change.’ Not that personal discovery or social change are necessarily bad in themselves, but, well, as Teddy Roosevelt put it, “How often you see some young fellow who boasts that he is going to “see life,” meaning by that that he is going to see that part of life which it is a thousandfold better should remain unseen!”
            In other words, a life that looks to the self, for whatever reason, with no regard for God, that seeks experience and ‘personal fulfillment’ and ‘authenticity’ whatever other nonsense is ultimately to be judged a failure. The self makes a very poor god, as dear old Narcissus found out. 
            The other two readings stand out in sharp contrast; here we have close encounters with the True God, first in the ghostly covenant with Abraham, then in the dazzling vision of the Transfiguration.
            Many people complain that God is, if not absent, at least hidden from us. They wonder why He doesn’t make it a little easier; make Himself felt more in the world. Well, scenes like the above two remind us precisely why. The felt presence of God, the actual face-to-face encounter with Him, is overwhelmingly terrifying. Peter is reduced to, essentially, babbling in fright, and Abraham is seized by “a great dread.” Put bluntly, God is scary, and anyone who thinks differently is deluding himself.
            Here’s the interesting point: God’s secrecy is what allows us to worship our “hungry bellies” and lose ourselves to the things of Earth, yet without that secrecy, we wouldn’t be able to function at all, since our minds would be constantly overwhelmed. The ‘absence’ of God is a gift, just like Free Will. Both can be easily abused, but both are necessary for existence in the world.

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