2nd Sunday of Lent. March 5, 2023

 

2nd Sunday of Lent. March 5, 2023

Genesis 12: 1-4a; 2 Timothy 1: 8b-10; Matthew 17: 1-9

 

Theme:  Lenten Season is a Journey of Faith

Today is the Second Sunday of our 40-day journey of repentance called Lent. In the Scripture readings of last Sunday, we heard two stories of temptation by the devil. Satan tempted Eve and Adam using the threefold concupiscence namely the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. His goal was to break the relationship that our first ancestors had with God. The author of the book of Genesis told us that Eve and Adam fell to these temptations and consequently, sin entered the world. The second story of the temptation was in the Gospel. The same devil came to tempt Jesus in the desert using the same threefold of concupiscence. Note that Jesus spent forty days and forty nights in prayer and fasting to prepare himself for the beginning of his public ministry. The devil’s aim in tempting Jesus was to lead him to sin and stop him from starting his mission of building the kingdom of heaven on earth. The evangelist Matthew recounted that three times Jesus overcame these temptations. Saint Paul who summarized both readings told us that through the disobedience of Eve and Adam, we were made sinners, so through the obedience of Jesus we are made righteous.

The Scripture readings of this Sunday, which talk about the “Journey of Faith”, remind me of the dramatic long journey on foot that I did which marked the beginning of my priestly formation. I started my official training as an SVD seminarian in July 2002, two weeks behind my classmates. All the other groups traveled together in a very good jeep of the SVD missionaries without me. I was obliged to follow them using public transportation. Note that the road was very bad at that time. I took a big truck with many other passengers. While traveling on the road, the truck suddenly broke. I left my suitcase there, and earlier in the morning I set on a long journey of over 55 miles on foot with nine other passengers. After about 25 miles, two people were so tired and were no longer able to continue. They decided to stay in one village waiting for the repaired truck to pick them up. As we were advancing, two more passengers got tired and did the same as the first group. Later after a couple of miles, again two more dropped off until we stayed just four, three men who were cousins and me. It was very dark, around 8 pm, when we were crossing the last big forest. One of the cousins declared that he could not walk any longer. His two feet swelled terribly. He suggested we stay with him for at least the whole night and in the morning, we can continue on the road. The two cousins refused, continued their journey, and left him alone. When I was about to follow them, this sick man caught me strongly in my cloth, crying, and begged me to not leave him alone. I too was so afraid, but I did not have a choice than assist him. I stayed with him in that large and dangerous forest in darkness for about two hours. In my pocket, I found a small container of cream for muscle and pain relief that I bought in Kinshasa at the place where I was waiting for transportation. When I bought that cream, I wanted to return it immediately because I did not see its importance at that time. The seller refused to give me my money back and so I decided to keep it anyway not realizing how helpful it would be to my companion. God knows how he arranges things. I treated him with that cream, got him a walking stick from the forest, carried his heavy bag on my head, and we resumed our journey both of us. I was in front, he was behind me with one hand holding his walking stick, and another hand touching the fringe of my cloth. We walked slowly crossing that large forest just two of us for about four hours. Around 2 am, we reached a big river that separated us from the city of our final destination. We found his two cousins there because there was no boat to cross over. So, all of us stayed there until the morning and crossed together. That was a dramatic long journey on foot I did which marked the beginning of my priestly formation. I call it a “journey of faith”.

I recount the experience of my journey because the Scripture readings of this Second Sunday of Lent talk about the “journey of faith” that marked the beginning of important events. In our first reading, God calls Abraham to set on a “journey of faith” which will culminate in God demanding Abraham to sacrifice his “only begotten son” Isaac. (Genesis 22: 1-14). This “journey of faith” marks the beginning of Abraham’s vocation to become the “father of the faith” of many nations. Likewise, the story of the Transfiguration we heard in today’s Gospel passage, for all the Synoptic Gospels, marks the “beginning of the end” of the earthly life of Jesus. After the Transfiguration, Jesus will begin his “journey of faith” toward Jerusalem which will climax with his crucifixion. During this Lenten season, you and I are on our own “journey of faith” which will culminate in the Passion Week when our sinful states die with Jesus, and we receive new lives with him in his resurrection. We also are on our earthly “journey of faith” toward God’s kingdom where our bodies will experience the Transfiguration like the body of Jesus in today’s Gospel.

Peter enjoys the glory of the Transfiguration. He makes a special request to build three tents there to say that he wants to stay there for good. On one hand, we should enjoy every moment we spend with Jesus in the celebration of the Mass. This is a special moment in which heaven and earth unite. When we sing with the choir, we join the angels of heaven and praise God. When we listen to the Scripture readings, we listen to God. When we receive the Eucharist, we receive Jesus. So, the Mass is this moment of the Transfiguration that Peter and his companions experienced.  We should enjoy that experience and wish to stay here for good as Peter requested. On the other hand, we cannot “build three tents” and stay in this “Transfiguration moment” while many people are still in the darkness of this world. Jesus expects us to go out at the end of the Mass to share the experience of the Transfiguration that we receive at each Mass with the people so that they too follow Jesus and come to do the same experience.  

In addition, in his request to stay in the Transfiguration moment for good, Peter wants to celebrate Easter by skipping Good Friday; he wants already to be in heaven without carrying his cross. There is no Easter without Good Friday, and there is no heaven without accepting to carry our crosses daily. This is what entails our earthly “journey of faith”. In our first reading, Abraham is called to start a “journey of faith” from Chaldea (modern Iraq) to Canaan (modern Israel). This is a long-distance journey on foot. We can imagine all the pain, hunger, and suffering he and his family endured on the road. Throughout salvation history, we see different “journeys of faith” to this same Promised Land where Abraham journeyed in our first reading. For instance, many years later, in the event called “Exodus”, Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel did a “journey of faith” into the desert for forty years toward this same promised land. Many generations later, the people of Judah who were forced to exile in Babylon for seventy years journeyed with faith back to this same Promised Land. We too are on our earthly “journey of faith” to the “Heavenly Promised Land”. This spiritual journey entails crosses that we are called to carry daily. In the experience of my journey at the beginning of my priestly formation that I shared above, I know how it was painful. I walked from five in the morning to two in the following morning. I know how I starved for food and thirst for water. I can better understand the “journeys of faith” of Abraham and the people of Israel that I just mentioned. This is the spiritual journey of faith we are called to do from this world to our “Promised Land” heaven. We should never give up our crosses. We need to endure.

Therefore, amid the suffering and challenges that we encounter during our “journey of faith”, Saint Paul encouraged us to bear our share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes, not from human beings, but from God. Here Saint Paul wants to teach us that we will be strong in our “journey of faith” only if we use God as the source of our strength. So, we are called to deepen our lives in prayer through the celebrations of the sacraments, especially the sacraments of the Eucharist (Mass) and Confession.

 

Jesus selects you and me and leads us up in this mountain of the celebration of the Eucharist in which he makes us experience the Transfiguration when we listen to his Word and share his Body and Blood in the Eucharist. Although our spiritual journey in this world may seem challenging, the glory of the Transfiguration that we experience at each Mass must motivate us to pursue our journey of faith until the end and reach the final destination which is the heavenly “Promised Land”. Amen.

Rev. Leon Ngandu, SVD

 

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