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March 12 2017 (A) Second Sunday of Lent

A. The bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings)

B. Reflection & Dialogue: The glory of Christ and the call to bear witness

The Bible as Guide in Life and Liturgy (Sunday Readings).

First Reading (Genesis 12:1-4). The call of Abraham, the father of the People of God. With this reading the Bible begins the story of the people of Israel. What preceded it in the Bible in chapters 1 to 11 is a sort of pre-history. Not that this particular reading is interested in setting the text in a historical context. The passage stands out from any historical background to such an extent that it speaks to any age and generation. Only two persons are involved: God and Abraham. God calls and Abraham responds, without any questions or conditions. To this extent the call of Abraham is similar to Jesus’ call of his first disciples at the Sea of Galilee. Many missioners from our own country have answered a similar call and have left their own country and their own people to preach the good news in other lands. But to return to Abraham: God promises that he will bless him and his descendants and says that all the tribes of the earth shall bless themselves by him; “May the blessing of God be on us as it was on Abraham”, or, possibly, that through Abraham all the nations of the earth will be blessed. Either rendering of the Hebrew text is possible. We all know, of course, that in the New Testament this is a central text on this blessing of Abraham coming on all the nations of the world through Jesus Christ, the seed, the descendant, of Abraham.

Responsorial Psalm (Psalm 32[33]). May your love be upon us, O Lord, as we place all our hope in you.

Second Reading (2 Timothy 1:8-10). God calls and enlightens us. There is a connection between this reading and the first one read today (called by God) and with today’s Gospel reading (the glory of Christ). In the immediate context of this letter Paul is urging Timothy, a newly appointed bishop, not to be shy in bearing witness to the Gospel, or ashamed of it by reason of Paul’s sufferings for it, to rekindle the gift of God within him given through the laying on of Paul’s hands. Paul reminds him that God did not give believers a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and self-discipline, a spirit that inspires one to be prepared to suffer for the Gospel and to be convinced of the greatness of the calling we have in the faith. Faith is founded on the power of God who has saved us and called us to be holy, not because of any merit or good deeds on our part, but by his own grace. Paul lays stress on this call. It is holy because it comes from God, the Holy One, and the author of holiness in us. The Christian call is part of the eternal plan of God, there in God before time began but revealed in time by the Appearing (in Greek epiphaneia, Epiphany) of our saviour Jesus Christ. Generally in the New Testament this Greek word rendered “Appearing” is reserved for the coming, manifestation, of Christ in glory at the end of time. Here it refers to his coming, appearing, among us in his life, death and resurrection. He has brought in a new age by his victory over death, and has ordained that new life and immortality be proclaimed through the Gospel and the preaching of it.

The Gospel (Matthew 12:1-9). His face shone like the sun. This section of the Gospel on the transfiguration of Christ comes after Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus was the Messiah (the Christ), and after Jesus had predicted his coming passion, to be followed by his resurrection. He led his three special apostles, Peter, James and his brother John, up a high mountain apart. We are not told the name of the mountain, which may have been Hermon rather than Tabor, being nearer Caesarea. Jesus’ transfiguration, in his features and clothing, would have been a prefiguring of the glory that would be his at the resurrection. The three apostles saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. These two were witnesses or representatives of Israel’s sacred history, summed up in the Law and the Prophets, witnesses to God’s dealing his chosen people through the ages. Everything that Moses (the Law) and the Prophets (Elijah) stood for would be fulfilled by Christ, in his death and resurrection. The chief agents and witnesses to this divine plan of salvation, God, Jesus, Moses, Elijah and the apostles, were present on that mountain. In keeping with biblical history, the cloud was a sign and a symbol of the divine presence. In a sense it represents the same as the heaven opened at Jesus’ baptism. And as at the baptism, a voice, that of the Father, announces that Jesus is his beloved Son, but with the added words: “Listen to him”. The apostles, and the Church down through the centuries, will bear witness to that glory of Jesus, to the transfiguration of his person, and to the glory that comes from him to believers, and will always be there to the eyes of faith.

B. Reflection & Dialogue:The glory of Christ and the call to bear witness.

Christ’s transfiguration on the mountain was a witness to the glory he would have after his resurrection. A vision of this glory continues to be shared by the Church. Jesus has revealed the Father and continues to reveal him to believers. Christ himself has told us that whoever sees him sees the Father. Paul the Apostle lays stress on this vision of Christ in the hearts of the faithful. As he wrote to the Cortinthians (among other related matters) (2 Corinthians 4:6): “For it is the God who said. ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. In the second reading today we have a reference to the presence of the glory of God in the Appearing of Christ among us in his earthly life.

            Christ lives in the hearts of the faithful through his grace and through the Holy Spirit, his Spirit. He shines through his teaching in the Gospels, in the Beatitudes, in the Sermon on the Mount. He came that his followers, and the world, may have life and have it in abundance. Belief in the transfiguration of Christ, and of his followers, gives a vision of life through grace -- a vision that is important for believers today more than ever, when some many other visions, and voices, are vying for attention.

            The second reading today gives material for our reflection, containing as it does an invitation, perhaps a warning, not to be shy about belief in this vision of the glory of God in Jesus, and to be ready to bear witness to it as occasion indicates.

(For reflections on the Sunday and Feast Day readings see Martin McNamara, Sunday Readings with Matthew: Interpretations and Reflections, Dublin, Veritas, 2016)