HOMILY 2nd SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR A 2023 ESSENDON
Mt 17.1-9 Gen 12.1-4 2Tim 1.8-10
This is a strange Gospel coming after the temptations of Jesus after his time in the desert, to self-gratification, power and glory, which he obviously rejects, in the face of the evil one, Satan, symbolizing the human temptations we all face. Jesus shows us the way to resistance and self-denial for a higher purpose. And so on we go in this time of anticipation and active preparation and response to the needs of others.
This week I visited Preps at OLN and Grade 1’s at St Therese’s, and these young ones already had a sense of doing something good, or going without something they liked to help others, so the message of Project Compassion is getting an early introduction, a very good sign in our younger students getting to appreciate the message of Jesus in practical ways! Their youthful enthusiasm and innocence is heartwarming to see!
When I think of the not so good ‘old days’, many of us remember how Lenten discipline was prescribed in detail, even to the extent in Canon Law commentaries of how much could be consumed on days of fast, throughout the season of Lent, along with the abstinence from meat on all Fridays, exceptions being made for the hard working class concerning physical labour!
There was even an advanced question in “The Age Superquiz” the other day about which mammal was a fish (and could thus be eaten during Lent), and would you believe it was the beaver!! (A bit like platypus, I guess!). The things they worried about which didn’t really matter. And there is the story of the upper classes still able to enjoy oysters and crayfish on Fridays in Lent, including an Archbishop of Westminster, way back there!! External regulation and observance, in some ways, was easier than internal self-discipline and making up our own minds about what we could do in useful practical ways of service and self-sacrifice. The trouble is that the laws or rules became an end in themselves, much as Jesus gets stuck into the Pharisees and scribes for their obsession with detail, and missing the point of the original purpose and spirit of the law.
Today we have Transfiguration of Jesus to reflect upon. The Jerome Biblical Commentary suggests it could be seen as a vision of Peter, receiving insight into the role and person of Jesus, as an “externalization of an inner spiritual event”, whereby Matthew is emphasising the divine revelation in Jesus himself, with glimpses appearing along the way of Jesus’ public ministry.
Meanwhile, we see a broader, imperfect, defectible world where there is ongoing suffering in so many ways, with natural disasters and unnecessary wars. It can all weigh us down if we don’t take a little time out for reflection and being determined to improve things in our own small way.
Genesis today presents the call of Abraham, after a period following the original Sin, sees increasing sin, violence and dehumanisation, followed by Noah’s story, with the great flood and then the tower of Babel, symbolic of human confusion and conflict over what were probably ethnic and linguistic differences, so not so different from some parts of today’s world. Out of this mess comes Abraham, who is presented as the faithful man of clear mind, open to God’s purposes, prepared to go into the unknown, determined to succeed in facing up to the obstacles he will encounter along the way, confident and trusting in God’s presence and support.
Significant is that Matthew’s Transfiguration account comes not long after Jesus has first predicted his passion and death, something his followers are understandably reluctant to hear, and which doesn’t match their expectations of power and glory and freedom, as they wish things could be. Yet, there is to be ultimate victory in the end, and this is what Matthew is prefiguring. There is no easy path. While Peter wants to extend the moment of this high point of God’s revelation, Jesus reverts to his usual self, returning down from the mountain, to walk with them on the path of discipleship. And this is after he has identified with Moses and Elijah, symbolic of the Law and the Prophets, which Jesus supercedes in himself and his teaching.
Transfiguration says something to me about life in general, that we have our high points or moments of transcendence, which we treasure and enjoy, but also realising we have to come down from the mountain, so to speak, and walk the earth, with our feet of clay, facing up to the reality and unpredictability of the joys and sorrows of our daily existence, mundane as it may be at times. There is the possibility of change and improvement in our own scene when we respond with compassion and love to serve others, particularly those in need. In this way we can make a positive difference in their lives.
My friend Claude Mostowik MSC speaks of the 2019 Amazon Synod in Rome as a Transfiguration. It began by listening to the voice of the local peoples who were suffering injustice in their home environment. They were told that they mattered, they were heard, and that God was with them on this journey to justice and fairness. Jesus’ message embodies “a God of justice, and calls on all people to co-operate in truth, justice, love and freedom.” Claude also sees the recent journey to South Sudan together, of Pope Francis, Anglican Archbishop Justin Welby and Iain Greenshields (Moderator of the Church of Scotland) as a way of making the local people realize that they matter, and that lasting peace is a concern of all.
In Claude’s words: “If anything, the message of today’s Gospel is that God’s presence transforms our world, and us, from within. God tells us to listen to Jesus. Pope Francis is clearly one who listens to Jesus and acts. We need to have personal contact with people who are poor, find ways to reach out to them, the suffering, the refugee, and the stranger. These are God’s beloved. Transfiguration is a communal process, not a personal possession. Once the light has shone into our hearts, we can act as a transfigured people, and people around us need us to do that. The disciples re-enter the world that Jesus engages with.”
We all need to come down from the mountain, making the most of the high points of life up there, but also be a light to others by the way in which we respond to walking with them on the journey of life together.
Now, this week, after Mass, we can hear about Tereesa, an indigenous woman who joined Baabayn Young Mums and Bubs program when she was only 16, and now is a skilled artist, working there to support and mentor other young mothers. Project Compassion helps finance Baabayn through Caritas Australia.
(PC Video – Tereesa and Baabayn Young Mums and Bubs)
john hannon 5th March 2023