Sunday, 25 February 2018 : Second Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this Sunday, the second one in the season of Lent, we are called to reflect on the meaning of obedience to God, which is something that many of us may not have done with our own lives, as we live our daily lives without realising of the obligations and duties which we have as those who believe in God and walk in His ways.

In the first reading today, we heard first of all, the story of how God called upon Abraham, His faithful servant, with whom He had created a Covenant with, to bring his son, Isaac, to the Mount Moria to be sacrificed to Him. God promised in His Covenant with Abraham that He would give him a son, as Abraham was once childless even unto his old age. His wife Sarah was unable to bear a child, and he had to resort to a slave woman to provide him a son.

But God fulfilled His promises to Abraham, proven by Sarah’s pregnancy in her old age, and the birth of Isaac, the promised son, through whom God had promised Abraham that he would have descendants as many as the stars in the heavens and the sand grains at the seashore of the world. Then it must have come as a surprise for Abraham to hear such a command from the Lord, asking him to bring his beloved son Isaac to Mount Moria to be sacrificed.

How can God say such a thing? How can He, Who is good, demand a human sacrifice, more so that of a young child? How can He be like the pagan gods of my ancestors, who demanded human sacrifices? How can He do this to me? I thought that He has promised me a son, and now that I finally have received the son I was promised, and saw him grew up all these while, only for God to ask for him to be sacrificed to Him? How can this be?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, all of these are the thoughts and concerns which must have been in Abraham’s mind the moment he heard the Lord’s strange command, and it must have continued to trouble him throughout the journey towards Mount Moria. After all, Abraham is a human being just like us, with all of its flaws and worldly concerns and thoughts. I am sure that Abraham also had doubts about what the Lord had asked him to do.

Yet, regardless of all that, Abraham remained true to his faith in God, and chose to trust God in all that He had called him to do. St. Paul in one of his Epistles mentioned about this matter, speaking about Abraham and his faith in not holding back even his beloved son, Isaac, to be given to God if He so wished, as he had complete trust that God would be able to raise Isaac his son from the dead if He wanted it. Abraham therefore placed himself in God’s hands.

In the end we saw how God was only testing the faith that Abraham had in him, and as he has devoutly fulfilled his part of the Covenant, not withholding even his own son from God, the one he loved so much, thus God saw there was no blame in Abraham, and as a result, affirmed Abraham in all that He had promised him that He would do. From Isaac, many nations would come forth, including the Israelites, the ones whom God had chosen to be His first beloved people.

Just as Abraham did not hesitate not to hold back his own son from being given up to God as an offering, then we see just how amazing our Covenant with God is, as we clearly should have remembered, just how God did not hesitate, equally, to give us His own most beloved Son, Jesus Christ, Our Lord, to be our Saviour, by none other than the offering of His life on the cross. By His cross, all of us have been saved and made worthy.

In the Gospel passage today, we heard a different story, and yet, one that is incredibly similar and showed a great parallel to what we have heard in the first reading today. In that passage, we heard about how the Lord Jesus brought up His three most trusted disciples, St. Peter, St. James and St. John the Apostles, up to the Mount Tabor in Galilee. Already in this, we can see a parallel with the story of Abraham going on a journey with Isaac to the Mount Moria.

The Lord Jesus went up Mount Tabor, and He was glorified and transfigured before the eyes of His disciples, shining with His divine glory and majesty, revealing before all those who saw Him, the true nature of Jesus Christ, as both Son of Man, as well as the Son of God, the Divine Word of God incarnate into flesh. Moses and Elijah also appeared on the Mount Tabor, and spoke with the Lord Jesus.

The symbolism of the appearance of these two most prominent among the servants of God cannot be underestimated, as they together represent what the Lord Jesus came into this world for, and what He represented. Moses was one the greatest of the leaders of the people of Israel in the past, through whom God passed down to His people the Law and the commandments, which the Israelites preserved through the ages. Meanwhile, the prophet Elijah was among the greatest and most prominent among the prophets and messengers that God had sent to His people.

Therefore, they affirmed the Lord’s arrival in this world as the perfect fulfilment of all that God Himself has promised to His people through His prophets, and even Moses also prophesied about the coming of the Messiah, saying that the Lord would raise up a Leader from among His own people, that is Jesus, Who was born into the people of Israel, a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as the heir of David, king of Israel.

And the Lord Jesus was indeed also a Prophet, the greatest of all the Prophets, for while all the other prophets spoke on the authority granted to them by the Lord, the Lord Jesus spoke on His own authority, revealing to the people the will of God and telling them the truth and teaching them about the Law of God. He spoke with the combined authority of the prophets. And as Moses represented the Law, the Lord Himself is the Law, through which He wanted everyone to know how to love, as the essence of Law is about loving God and loving one another.

That was why God called Abraham to Mount Moria, testing him with the demand to sacrifice his own son, Isaac, whom surely Abraham loved beyond anything else. Abraham obeyed God and listened to Him, despite all the concerns, doubts and questions he might have of God’s command. This showed Abraham’s love and devotion for God, which surpassed anything else, even for his son and for any of his worldly riches and power.

And Jesus, in our Gospel passage today, showed the same obedience as what Abraham had done, as He listened to the will of His Father, that despite all the glory He experienced at Mount Tabor during His Transfiguration, He knew that the purpose of His coming into the world was for the salvation of mankind. And in order to do that, He would have to suffer and be condemned to death, the most painful death on the cross.

Thus, when St. Peter and the other Apostles told Jesus that they would build three tents for Him and for Moses and Elijah, God rebuked them by reminding them that they must listen to Him and follow the examples shown by Jesus, Who showed perfect obedience to the will of His Father even unto accepting death on the cross, for the sake of our salvation.

Why did St. Peter tell such a thing to Jesus? It is the devil that spoke through St. Peter, just as he tempted the Lord three times during His fasting of forty days in the desert, our last Sunday’s Gospel passage. Again we see how the devil might tempt us in various ways, as what I have mentioned earlier today, with all the questions and doubts that Abraham had regarding God’s orders.

St. Peter said that, ‘It is good that we are here’ which refers to the blissful moment they spent at that mountain. They wanted to stay there forever, because they feel satisfied and happy, and the pursuit of happiness and personal satisfaction is the main way through which the devil is trying to bring us down through temptation and persuasion, that we fall into sin and disobedience against God.

If they went down the mountain, they would suffer persecution and challenges from the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law, the priests and elders who hounded them and harassed them at every possible opportunity. It is our human weakness and frailty which bring about our desire to seek happiness, profit and enjoyment for ourselves. And the devil exploits these at every possible opportunity.

The Lord resisted the temptation to avoid the sufferings and difficulties which He had to face if He obeyed the Father’s will. He went down the Mount Tabor with His disciples, fully knowing that He was going down to His suffering and death on the cross, on Calvary. And the disciples obeyed Him and followed Him, and even though some faltered and they were scattered when the Lord was arrested, but they persevered on, and went on to follow Him, eventually to martyrdom as they kept their faith in God firmly.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what is it that each and every one of us must take away from today’s Scripture passages and reflection we have just had? First of all, to be a Christian, we must be God-centric and not self-centric. God must be the priority of our respective lives, and there can be nothing else more important for us than to glorify God through our words, actions and deeds. And as Christians we must obey the Lord and follow His will in everything we do.

And it is inevitable that in our lives we will encounter difficulties and persecution, challenges and obstacles, just as the Lord and His disciples had encountered, and just as Abraham surely had encountered in his own life. The Lord Jesus Himself did not call His disciples to a life of happiness, joy, prosperity and comfort, as what we surely want to have with our lives. No, He called us to a life filled with both joy of serving the Lord, as well as the realisation of suffering, by calling us to ‘take up our crosses, and follow Him.’

In this season of Lent, we are called to rediscover our true priority in life, that is God. That is why we fast, so as to restrain ourselves, as well as abstinence, that we may look beyond all sorts of earthly goodness and sources of happiness as familiar to us, known to us since we were born. We have been inundated with the various happiness that we may gain from the world, be it prestige, wealth, fame, pleasures of the body, sexual pleasures, pleasures of the stomach, good food, and many others. But are these really true sources of happiness that will last?

Therefore, brothers and sisters in Christ, shall we make best use of this time of Lent to rediscover our faith, and understand why is it that we need to be faithful to God and to put Him above all else, following the examples that Abraham our father in faith has shown us, and the Lord Jesus Himself showed us. After all, if God has always been faithful to His Covenant with us, not holding back His own Son, Jesus Christ, to be crucified for us, that we may live, in the manner of Abraham’s faith, why should we not show the same commitment and faith to the Covenant God had made with us?

Let us all draw ever closer to God and follow His ways. Let us seek to be ever more faithful to Him, and obey Him as far as possible in all the things that He has commanded us to do. May the Lord bless us all in our journey of faith, that we may grow in our relationship with Him, and find our way to His everlasting grace. Amen.

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