Since Friday is St. Patrick’s Day and I am a quarter Irish, I’d like to tell you this story. An Irishman moves from Dublin into a tiny village in County Kerry in the west of Ireland, walks into the pub and promptly orders three beers. The bartender raises his eyebrows, but serves the man three beers, which he drinks quietly at a table, alone. As this continued every day the bartender asked him politely, “The folks around here are wondering why you always order three beers?” “It’s odd, isn’t it?” the man replies, “You see, I have two brothers, and one went to America, and the other to Australia. We promised each other that we would always order an extra two beers whenever we drank.” Then, one day, the man comes in and orders only two beers. As this continued for several days, the bartender approached him with tears in his eyes and said, “Folks around here, me first of all, want to offer condolences to you for the death of your brother. You know-the two beers and all…” The man ponders this for a moment and then replies with a broad smile, “You’ll be happy to know that my two brothers are alive and well. It’s just that I, myself, have decided to give up drinking for Lent.”
On this second Sunday of Lent, we always hear one of the three Gospel stories of Jesus being transfigured on the mountain.
The real miracle of Christ’s transfiguration is sometimes missed by a society preoccupied with the physical. People focus on perfecting their ability to give up bodily pleasures. Lenten practices have sometimes been inspired by a desire to lose unsightly pounds more than shedding the dead weight of envy, anger, judgment or greed. We seem more impressed by glowing skin than a radiant spirit. God looks with the eyes of the heart to those who radiate compassion and whose souls proclaim like Mary, the greatness of the Lord.
There is something fundamental going on here in the first reading and the Gospel. There is a major connection between the first reading from Genesis and the Gospel of Matthew.
Mass today has a focus on the beginning. In the book of Genesis, the first chapters include the story of Creation. The crowning glory of Creation are human beings made by God and subject to God, but who are not God. The man and woman disobeyed God because they did not listen and heed God’s words. From this dysfunction, they are expelled from the Garden. It is a poetic account of not listening to God. Once humans stop listening to God, they go into Exile.
Then there is a lesson on nonviolence with the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Then comes the story of Noah and the Ark because once again, God’s children did not listen to Him and became evil. Thus the flood brought forth punishment and a new beginning. It was not long before human beings desired to become greater than God and started building the Tower of Babel. God destroyed the tower and scattered the human race. At this point, humans stopped attending to the voice of God. They are filled with pride. They want to do everything according to their will. They refused to listen to the voice of God.
And now we come to Abram. The LORD speaks to him a command: Go forth from your father’s house to a land I will show you. Really? Can you think of lots of reasons not to get up and go to a foreign land? God promises greatness for Abram and his descendants. Remember he has no children.
Everything will hinge on the next moment. Will Abram listen???? Will he obey?
After the promise by God is the response. Abram went as the LORD directed him.
Hinge line of whole Bible. Not according to his own designs but as the Lord directed him. He lived up to his calling as a child of God created in God’s image and likeness.
To do God’s will was not so simple. Abram had a difficult journey crossing into foreign nations. God said that he and his wife Sarai would be parents of a great nation. He needed children, for this to happen, but they were childless. They were beginning to doubt because of their old ages 90 and 99. God spoke and they trusted and obeyed. Isaac was born. And once again, Abram whose name God changed to Abraham, heard God ask him the impossible – take your young son and sacrifice on Mount Moriah. Did he obey? Did he follow his own plan? Did Abraham disobey the voice of God? Entire salvation history will flow from this. As Abram did many years ago, so the same man, Abraham did as the LORD directed him.
Flash forward 1500 years to the Gospel. In the account of the Transfiguration, God says, “this is my Beloved Son. Listen to Him.” And the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were, “Rise. Don’t be afraid.” Important words for us at all times.
In prayer, we so often ask God for what we want. Ask what God wants not what I want. The story of Abram/Abraham teaches us that the will of God may challenge us. This story is a foreshadowing of the story of Jesus.
Faith in God invites us through the teachings of the readings today not to talk, but to listen. In the spiritual order: God speaks and we learn to listen, not to ourselves but to the Lord, even when it seems counterintuitive, when it doesn’t make sense. Faith is trusting that what God says is the will of God. Very often the will of God connects us to a bigger plan that spans beyond the limited years of our small lives. When you doubt the possibility of guidance, you’ve just stopped the flow. But if you stay on the path of allowing and trusting, the Spirit in you will allow you to confidently surrender: There’s a reason for this. God is in this, too.
Please don’t hear me as adopting a fatalistic approach, as though you can’t work to change or improve your situation. Quite the contrary—you can. But I am saying that what first comes to your heart and soul must be a yes instead of a no, trust instead of resistance. When you can lead with yes and allow yourself to see God in all moments, you’ll recognize that nothing is ever wasted
We enter the second week of Lent. Let’s not give up. These readings today are meant to give us courage to keep going if we are faint-hearted. Even if you failed to start Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving or even if you failed in doing them, get up and keep going. Jesus the Beloved Son of God is with us in all His glory. Listen to Him and not to anyone else. God always gives us a chance to begin again.
By the way, Saint Patrick is one who also followed the voice of God to go to a foreign land. He was not Irish born, but Welsh. First a slave sent to Ireland, he went across the sea. After his initial return to Wales, he decided to return to his new beloved homeland and bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Many of us are grateful for Patrick’s YES to God in face of all the challenges during the adventure of his own life.