Either God is everything to us, and we give him everything, or we live as if he is just another detail to keep track of, while keeping our most precious things for ourselves. Part of the challenge of Lent is to put God once more at the very center of our lives, no matter what the cost. Part of the grace of Lent is that God teaches us how glorious our life is when we are with him.
The most striking element of today’s readings is the brief moment of the transfiguration, an exhilarating vision of beauty, a glimpse of glory, which we see shining on the face of Jesus. Jesus leads Peter, James and John up a high mountain and gives them a vision of the future, a “light at the end of the tunnel,” to strengthen them for the upcoming contradiction of his Passion. This experience is recounted for us also to give us a glimpse of the Resurrection, a taste of Easter, so that we will have the strength and motivation to persevere through Lent.
Our whole life can be described as a climb up a high mountain with Jesus and the Apostles. It demands a long wearying effort, and we are easily distracted or discouraged. At times the tempter, whom we encountered last week in the desert, tells us to stop along the way; he suggests that we have already done enough. In our weakest moments, we are tempted to give up the climb altogether. But the Lord, at his own chosen moment, grants us a powerful reminder of who we are journeying with, where we are going, and why every effort is worthwhile. Life is not just more rocks to climb. Life is Christ, and he is breathtakingly glorious! (cf. Phil 1:21). Along the journey, we have only glimpses of him, but even a brief moment of grace is enough to sustain us. Every Sunday gives us another reminder of Easter, and of the glorious future that awaits us if we are willing to abandon our idols and climb the mountain of the Lord.
We cannot make progress in the journey of the spiritual life without tests that strengthen our faith. Today the Church sets before us the classic example of such an experience, the test of Abraham, our father in faith. God had enriched Abraham with many blessings, but the foremost was Isaac, the son whom He had promised and finally gave to Abraham when he was an old man. Isaac was Abraham’s most precious treasure. But then “God put Abraham to the test.” Abraham was both a faithful follower of God and a devoted father of Isaac. His faith in God was unshakable so he did not withhold him from his beloved son. When Abraham was willing to give up his precious “miracle child,” his son, the Lord responded by promising him many sons, “as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore”!
No doubt Abraham was deeply tempted to mistrust and to disobey, to value something more than God. This is at the root of every temptation, the suggestion that something is more precious to us than God. Part of Lent is learning to recognize our “idols” – that is, anything we value or depend on more than God. We have many such idols: money, career, children, reputation. Even having a gadget in our pocket or a cup of coffee at hand can become more important to us than God! It seems to us that we need these things to get through the day. How ridiculous we look when we see where we have been placing our trust!
St. Paul reminds us that our faith in God has the best possible foundation: God’s own goodness to us. God has provided us with everything we need. For Abraham he provided a ram caught in a thicket, but for us he has provided a Lamb, his own Son. Jesus shining in glory on the mountain becomes the Victim Lamb for our salvation. Pondering this amazing gift, Paul asks, “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but handed him over for us all, how will he not also give us everything else along with him?”
Today’s readings, then, give us great hope, especially when we are being put to the test, which is always a Lenten experience. God is preparing us for glory. When we reach the end of our journey, we ourselves will be transfigured. We will shine like the sun in the kingdom of our Father (cf. Mt 13:43) as we gaze forever on the glory on the face of Christ. Meanwhile, we continue to “Listen to him,” as the Father tells us, and to follow him along the way of his saving Cross.
What is most precious to me? Is the Lord calling me to give him everything?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 14, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.