As we begin the Second Week of Lent, the second reading opens with an exhortation that applies to our whole Lenten journey: “With the strength which comes from God, bear your share of the hardship which the gospel entails.” Our “share of the hardship” refers to whatever we find personally challenging in following Jesus along the way of the cross, whatever struggles we may have with prayer, fasting and mercy. The “strength which comes from God” includes the grace we receive from the word of God today, particularly the glorious vision of Jesus transfigured and the inspiring example of Abraham, our father in the way of faith.
The gospel takes us up the holy mountain. We take our place with Peter, James and John, and find ourselves, quite unexpectedly, in the dazzling presence of the glory of God! When we sat down to ponder today’s readings, we thought, like the apostles, that we were in an ordinary situation, that we had simply “climbed up” to our usual place of prayer. But suddenly as we read the scriptures we realize that we can hear Moses and Elijah speaking – and we hear the voice of God speaking through them. Even more marvelous, we are actually in the presence of God. The Father is directing our attention to Jesus, telling us, “Listen to him.”
“How good it is for us to be here!” This is our natural reaction to the experience of spiritual consolation. We like being with Jesus in glory! We would like to set up camp here and stay like this forever. If we are too attached to consolation, however, we will miss the real fruit of the Transfiguration, which is to strengthen us in following Jesus. Peter, in his eagerness to set up three tents, interrupts the conversation Jesus has with Moses and Elijah. He is not listening. When the Father speaks, Peter’s reaction is quite different. He and the other two disciples fall to the ground, over-come with fear. It is easy to “listen” to Jesus when his message is beautiful or consoling, or when he seems to be speaking to someone else; it can be frightening when we realize that the Lord is speaking directly to us, and he is taking us beyond our limits.
In such moments of fear and weakness, it is more important than ever to keep “listening to him.” What does Jesus say to us? First: “Get up! Do not be afraid.” How often the Lord says this to us – and how often we need to hear it! The Lord does not want fear of “the hardship which the gospel entails” to be an obstacle to our holiness. In order to go forward, we must trust and not fear. The second message of Jesus on the mountain is: “Do not tell anyone.” This is not a permanent command but a necessary intermediate step. We must learn how to remain silent in the Presence. We are not to run out and start talking immediately. We need to listen, to ponder the word of God, to absorb it. The Lord is forming us interiorly, in the way of faith, humility, wisdom. The time will certainly come – in his time – when he will send us forth.
Abraham is our model for how to respond in faith when the Lord sends us forth. The first reading is the account of the initial call of Abram – whose name was later changed to Abraham (cf. Gen 17:5). The Lord calls him when he is seventy-five years old. He tells him to go forth, “to a land that I will show you.” The open-ended nature of this call is well worth pondering. The Lord does not tell Abram anything about his journey – nothing about the place, the route, the distance, the time, the circumstances, or even the reason why he should go at all. It seems that the only important thing is to be willing to go forth, simply because God said so. This is faith: to obey God, trusting entirely in him, without fully understanding why or seeing the end result.
To journey in faith is increasingly foreign to us, since our mentality is constantly being shaped by marvelous advances in technology. Now even an ordinary phone is equipped with GPS tracking capability, so we can know exactly where we are at every moment, and exactly how far we are from our destination, and exactly the best route we should take. The way of faith is entirely different. We go forth, not knowing where we are going. This is most unfamiliar – and frightening! As we go forth, we keep “listening to him,” for the Lord is our daily guide and our only sure support.
The Lenten season is a time to leave our “comfort zone” and step out in faith. It is not a time to set up a tent on the mountain of consolation, or to sit in our easy chair or our comfortable routine. It is a time to follow the example of Abraham and go forth in obedient faith. It is a time to bear our share of the hardship which the gospel entails, with the strength that comes from God.
What are my greatest challenges as I follow the Lord? When do I find it difficult to accept the message of Jesus? Like Abraham, am I willing to step out in obedient faith?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 13, no. 3. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.