Sunday, 17 March 2019 : Second Sunday of Lent (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we celebrate the second Sunday in the season of Lent, we listened to the words of God speaking to all of us and reminding us of the nature of this season of Lent as a time of change and transformation, that we may transform ourselves, our lives, our actions, our habits and our every aspects, from one that is wicked and unworthy of God, into one that is good, righteous and worthy before God. This is the Covenant that God made with us mankind.

The Scripture readings today began with the narration from the Book of Genesis, recounting to us the moment when God made His Covenant with Abram, the man whom He called from the lands of Ur, to become the ancestor of many nations. God knew Abram’s heart and mind, and He saw the faith and love that Abram had for Him, and that was why, He chose Abram from among all the other men and women of his time.

God made a Covenant with Abram, promising him that He will always be faithful to the Covenant and the promise that He made to Abram and his descendants, that he would become the father of many nations. This was amazing considering that Abram at that time was already quite old, with a wife, Sarai, who was also equally quite old and likely way beyond childbearing age. Without a son to carry on his legacy, Abram was the unlikeliest person to be the father of many nations.

And yet, Abram chose to believe in God, and placed his trust in Him. He sealed the Covenant with God with the offering of sacrifices, which marked the beginning of God’s Covenant with Abram, His servant, who therefore was known as Abraham. Abraham received the blessings of God’s grace, and from then on, became the father of many nations through his son, who also was a father of many nations.

The change of name from Abram to Abraham is a significant marker in the Scriptures as the moment whenever a great change of life and a new commitment has been made. For example, Sarai also received a new name, Sarah because she was to become the mother of many nations just as Abraham became the father of many nations. Initially she did not believe that God was serious in the promises He had made, but eventually believed when a son was born to both her and Abraham, Isaac.

There are many other examples throughout the Scriptures where name changes occurred, most prominently being Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, who became known as Israel after the Covenant that God had made with his grandfather was renewed and reinforced, as Israel became the progenitor of the race of the first chosen people of God. And we have more examples in the time of the Old Testament as well as the New Testament.

Some of the Apostles also had their names changed indicating a great change that happened in their lives. Simon received a new name from the Lord, being called Cephas or Peter, which means ‘Rock’, as he left behind his previous identity as a fisherman of Galilee and accepting the role for which he was soon to be known, as the Rock of foundation of God’s Church. Levi similarly was called Matthew, after he left behind his tax collector job to follow the Lord.

And we know of the Apostle, St. Paul, who was once known as Saul. Saul was a great enemy of the Church, persecutor of the faithful, destroyer of the communities of the Christian faithful in his many purges during the earliest days of the Church. However, when he encountered the Lord on his way to Damascus, he went through a great conversion experience, and had his life completely overturned and changed, as he embraced a new identity as God’s champion, and the defender of the faith as Paul.

We have seen from these few examples, as well as many others which have not been mentioned today, how God changed the lives of many of His people throughout history. And as Christians, we too have been changed by God, through our baptism. Do we realise that at baptism we choose our baptismal names? For those of us who were born as Christians, the names have been chosen for us, while those who became Christians as adults, chose our baptismal names for ourselves.

These baptismal names are taken from the names of the saints of God, God’s holy men and women, those whom the Church had deemed and declared to be good, righteous and virtuous enough, to be deserving of the glory and honour of being with God in heaven. And they are our role models in life, in how they have exemplarily lived their lives, obeying God’s commandments and living righteously in all the things they have done.

We adopt the baptismal name with the names of those saints because we hope to emulate the good examples of those saints in our own lives, in turning towards the Lord with all of our hearts and with all of our minds. And through baptism, we go through a complete conversion experience, where we have been freed from our past, sinful life and enter into a new life in the grace of God. That is why through the Sacrament of Baptism, each one of us had gone through a change so significant that it heralded a new era of hope in our lives.

In the second reading passage today, we listened to the words of St. Paul in the Epistle he wrote to the Church and the faithful in the city of Philippi, where he mentioned that our citizenship is in heaven, and how the Lord will transform us, in body, mind, heart and soul, in our whole being, as how His own Transfiguration, as recounted to us in our Gospel passage today, has prefigured and told us. And this is because Christ has made with each and every one of us, the New and Eternal Covenant, the Covenant of the Cross.

Thus, linking this Covenant, that is True and Eternal with the original Covenant between God and Abraham, we see finally the full truth of God’s love and compassion, His care and mercy for each and every one of us His beloved and faithful ones. By His Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, He wanted us to know, through what His disciples witnessed, the ultimate fate and promise which He has given to us, to all those who have been faithful to Him. We shall be transfigured to be like Him, at the time that God appointed.

Therefore, each and every one of us are called to be transfigured or changed, completely in body, mind, heart and soul, just as much as Abraham committed himself to a total change in life and attitude, and just as much as the Apostles, St. Peter and St. Matthew embraced a new life of service and faith in God, and in how St. Paul turned his life almost completely upside down by embracing the faith and the same Covenant that God had forged with us all.

Yet, we must also not forget that a Covenant involves commitment and promise made between two parties, in which each one promises to be faithful and true to one another. God is ever so faithful and true to the Covenant that He has made and renewed again and again with each and every one of us, that in the Gospel today, He left behind His glorious Transfiguration, and descended down the Mount of Tabor, to go down the road to Jerusalem, where He would eventually face His suffering and death on the cross.

The Lord showed us all that if we want to follow Him faithfully, then we must be prepared to, in His own words, carry our crosses and follow Him, to share in the cross that He has borne, and to suffer just as He has suffered for our sake. It is not easy to become a Christian, as we will often need to cast away our past way of life, rejecting the pleasures and excesses of the world, resisting the temptations of the flesh, and to be righteous in our words, actions and deeds, even when the world and the society around us are against us.

The Lord humbled Himself and emptied Himself of all glory, so that by His humble obedience, He had saved us all through the love that He has for each and every one of us, so great that He was willing to go through such suffering, such pain and such humiliation just so that we may be saved from our fated destruction because of our sins. Are we able to do the same as He has done? He has been faithful to the Covenant that He has made with us, so are we able to be faithful to that Covenant?

Brothers and sisters in Christ, that is why during this season of Lent, we are all called to retrospect on our lives and reflect on how we have acted towards one another, how we have spent our time and effort in fulfilling the commitment of our Covenant with God. Have we embraced that profound change that the Covenant of God has brought into our lives? Have we rejected the path of sin and disobedience, and resisted the many temptations found in this world?

This Lent, let us all grow more generous in the giving and sharing our blessings with one another, in our almsgiving and care for the needs of those who are not as fortunate as we are, in our love and attention for those who are lonely, unloved, ostracised and rejected by the society. Let us all also resist the temptations of the flesh and of our body, by the genuine and pious act of fasting and abstinence throughout this season of Lent.

Let us all grow ever closer to God, and become truly worthy to be partakers of the Covenant of God, the New and Eternal Covenant which He has made with us all, by the outpouring of His Most Precious Body and Blood on the altar of the cross, the Most Worthy Lamb of God slain for us for our salvation and redemption from sin. He has given everything for us, as the proof of His faithfulness to the Covenant He made with us. Again, are we able to do the same for Him? Are we able to give everything in our lives for Him?

May this Lenten season be a turning point in our lives, the moment when we embrace the Covenant that God has made with us, and allow God to enter into our lives and transform us, completely in body, mind, heart and soul, that we become God’s holy people. May God bless us always, now and forevermore. Amen.