SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT
This Sunday’s liturgy is centred on three great “vocations”: the vocation of Abraham (first reading), who promptly abandoned all his securities and trusted only in God; the vocation of the Christian (second reading), called to a holy life; and the vocation of Christ “the beloved Son”, who walked towards the cross and to glory (gospel) by being faithful to God’s plan. Lent is a favourable time to renew our faith and to orientate our life towards the newness of Christ’s rising to life, the greatest event through which God “transfigures” the universe and history.
The first reading (Gen 12,1-4) relates in synthesis God’s call to Abraham and his immediate response to the divine call. Abram belongs to that generation that God dispersed through all the earth after men tried to build a tower “with its top in the sky” with the purpose of “making their name great” (literally in Hebrew: “to make a name for oneself”) (Gen 11,1-9). From this generation, which the Bible presents under the sign of sin, Abram was born, a restless man, in search of the truth and open to transcendence, who one day experienced through the events of his life a voice different from all the others, which invited him to risk everything and to trust, a voice which was at the same time calling and promise, closeness and mystery: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.” (Gen 12,1)
God promises Abram to make of him a great nation and “to make his name great” (v. 2). Through grace, he grants him what the people of the tower of Babel tried to achieve by their own strength. He promises him descendants, a land, a future, but to respond to that call entails entering into an apparently contradictory path. To have descendants, Abram has to accept the sterility of his wife Sarah and to leave his family, and the condition to succeed in possessing a land in the future is that of becoming a stranger in an unknown land.
Abram believes, trusts and sets on his way: “Abram went as the Lord directed him.” (v. 4) This will always be the drama of faith, of Abram and of all those who, like him, trust in God and walk with hope along unknown paths in obedience to the divine word. To voluntary renunciation, the risk of losing everything and not finding anything are added. This is the mystery and the tension of faith: to leave behind what is secure and known for something promised and unknown, trusting totally in God.
For his part, God promises Abram that he will always be with him and that he will make him the point of reference for all humanity: “I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you. All the communities of the earth will find blessing in you.” (v. 3) In future, the name of Abram would be synonymous to blessing and he himself would be a model of one who receives the divine blessing. In that call, the call of Israel resounds, destined to be a source of blessing to all peoples, and the call of the Christian who, like Abram, “hopes against hope” and places all his trust “in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” (Rom 4,18.24)
Every believer, after the example of Abram, enters into a dark path of “unknowing”; but paradoxically, allowing himself to be illuminated by the dark light of faith, he finds a greater certainty (even if it is always dark) that comes from the renunciation of his own ways so as to enter in those of God. St John of the Cross expresses poetically the risk and the certainty of the darkness of faith with these words: “I entered into unknowing, and there I remained unknowing, transcending all knowledge.”
The second reading (2 Timothy 1,8b-10) is an exhortation addressed to Timothy, inviting him to be faithful to his own vocation, even amidst the sufferings that witnessing and Christian service entail. Three characteristics of the Christian vocation are brought to mind. In the first place, it is absolutely gratuitous, founded only on God’s love and not on our good works; secondly, it is a vocation “in Jesus Christ”, that is, received through him in his ministry and paschal mystery and which consists in forming our life after his own historical existence; and thirdly, it is a vocation aimed at holiness, that is, the full communion of life with the Holy God.
The gospel (Mt 17,1-9) is a true anticipated proclamation of the glory of the resurrection. As in the theophanies in the Old Testament (Ex 3; 9) everything occurred in “the mountain” (v. 1), a symbolic space of transcendence and of the divine world. In the same manner that God “is robed in light as with a cloak” (Ps 104,2), the clothes of Jesus were transfigured, radiant as light, giving a glimpse of the divine glory present in his person.
The presence of Moses, who symbolizes the word of the Law, and of Elijah, who symbolizes the prophetic word, indicates that with Jesus salvation history has reached its culmination. In effect, the voice of the Father is heard in the mountain: “This is my beloved Son on whom my favour rests. Listen to him.” (v. 5) The mystery of Jesus is revealed to the disciples in this way: He is the Son. In the humiliation of the Son’s flesh is hidden the saving presence of God that liberates men and women.
The Transfiguration is, therefore, the great revelation of the mystery of Jesus, who will illumine the way of the disciples throughout the centuries. Jesus was transfigured before his disciples in the ordinariness of life. When they followed him to the cross, they experienced the divine glory and heard the voice of the Father. Thus it will always be from now on: the glory of God and his word will be revealed wherever men and women follow Jesus in the way of solidary and suffering love for others to the cross.
For the three disciples, the experience was unique. With reason, Peter exclaimed: “Lord, it is wonderful for us to be here! If you wish, I will make three tents…” (v. 4) They contemplated for a moment the unique beauty worthy of loving in itself, the only thing that has to be desired and cultivated because it will be eternal. They lived in history an instant of eternity; they tasted the joy of God’s communion and love. But history should continue. It has not reached its end. The request of Peter is illusory. Time cannot be stopped. What is transitory cannot be made permanent. It is necessary to go down the mountain.
The three disciples went down, but they were also transfigured, with the certainty that the way of the Master is the only way that leads to life. In the end, Jesus was alone (v. 8), because only he is the way and the meaning of all. The voice that they heard from God invited them to listen to him and to follow him to the cross. Only thus could they enter definitively into that glory and beauty that they had contemplated and enjoyed in advance.
The experience lived in the mountain reveals the glory of Jesus. The glorious Christ of the resurrection, the beloved Son of the Father, is the same Jesus of Nazareth who is on his way to death and announces his painful passion. The Transfiguration does not deny the cross, but the revelation of its saving significance as a way that leads to life. Through this experience Jesus strengthened the faith of his disciples and introduced them to the paradox of the resurrection: a life attained through death and a glory that is not an escape nor an indifference before the pain of history, but the aim and culminating point of the crucified and faithful love.