The Second Sunday of Lent – 8 March 2020
Lectionary Readings: Gen 12:1-4a; Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22; 2 Tim 1:8b-10; Matt 17:1-9
Theme: God’s presence with us always
Our readings this Sunday provide a wealth of revelation, encounter and possibilities of meaning. In Genesis we have Abram called by God to go on a journey in which he will be blessed and his name will be changed to Abraham. God makes a promise to Abram and Abram responds positively to God’s word before experiencing the promised outcomes. In this encounter we discover something about God and about Abram, who later becomes Abraham. Martin Buber distinguishes Abraham’s call from earlier characters such as Adam and Noah in noting their blessings were “natural gifts” whereas Abraham’s was “dialogic, promising and demanding at the same time; promising the formation of a people and imposing the obligations of a people, addressing the people in the person of its father and demanding in his person for it to ‘become a blessing’, a blessing for the world of nations.” (Plaut, 94-95)
The Gospel reading from Matthew also provides a revelatory experience. Peter, James and John see Jesus transfigured. The text tells us that Jesus’ clothes became “white as the light” and that the voice which said “This is my Son, the Beloved; he enjoys my favour. Listen to him” came from a cloud that was “bright” (Greek: bright, shining, radiant light, similar to that of the light of Jesus’ clothes). Light surrounds this moment of revelations and forms a connection between God and son. We know from Moses’ story, in Exodus 40:35-38, that a bright cloud is a sign of God’s presence.
We might ask why Moses and Elijah appear at this point. Moses is often associated with Torah, as he received it on Mount Sinai and Elijah is a prophet who, on another mountain, Horeb, heard a voice (1 Kings 19:12-13). They too journeyed and experienced God’s presence in an intimate way. The Jewish Annotated New Testament wonders if their presence suggests that “Jesus is the fulfilment of the Law and the Prophets” and notes that “Rabbinic texts also link Moses and Elijah”. However, how we understand “fulfilment” is crucial here, especially when we recall that in Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus said that “not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. … Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments … will be called least in the kingdom of heaven”. The Prophets reinforced the Law and in Matthew 5:17-20 and other places we have Jesus doing the same thing. Jesus’ emphasis on the law is further affirmed when the voice says, “listen to him”.
These people, on this mountain, from different times and different revelatory experiences, come together in another moment of revelation. A revelation so enormous that Peter, James and John were frightened. Jesus said to them, “do not be afraid”, and when they “raised their eyes they saw no one but only Jesus”. Nothing had changed and everything had changed in this encounter.
For Reflection and Discussion: 1. Each character experiences change after their encounter with God. What changes do you notice in your life when you’re aware of God’s presence? 2. There is a call to move in each of these texts from one place to another. Our experience is influenced by where we choose to situate ourselves. Where are you and where do you need to be to see more clearly?
Bibliography: Brown, Driver, Briggs (biblehub.com); Friberg, Analytical Greek Lexicon (London: 2005); Levine, A.-J. & Brettler, M. The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford: 2011); Plaut, W.G. The Torah: A Modern Commentary (New York: 1981).