Fr. Bryan Howard
2nd Sunday of Lent – Year C – 17 March 2018
What does it mean to be human? Are humans merely biological robots, the product of mere chance, programmed by the forces of evolution and without any real freedom? Or are we meant for more? Are we meant to realize that we were created to the image and likeness of God, adoptive children of God through baptism into Jesus Christ, the Son of God? We were destined for the freedom of the children of God, not to sell ourselves back into slavery to sin.
When the Lord called Abraham to travel from his home in Ur to a new land, He promised to give Abraham and his descendants the land that he would show him, descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky, and that his descendant would be a blessing to all the nations, and in today’s reading God seals those promises with an oath, thus forming a covenant with Abraham. God has Abraham bring him certain animals, clean animals that would make suitable sacrifices, and cut them in half and lay them out on the ground in two rows. Notice that it was nighttime at the beginning of the reading, as Abraham can see the stars, and he keeps vigil there all day until the next night. Then, God appears to Abraham as a fire pot and a flaming torch, the fire representing the presence of God, and passes through the animals, thus forming a covenant. By having His presence pass through the animals, the Lord is vowing to keep His promises to Abraham, or else let what happened to those animals happen to Him, thus sealing His promise with His very life.
Unfortunately, a part of God’s promise is left out of the reading. God told Abraham, “Know of a surety that your descendants will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs, and will be slaves there, and they will be oppressed for four hundred years; but I will bring judgment on the nation which they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions.” This promise is about the Exodus, when God delivered the descendants from slavery in Egypt and led them into the promised land and made them His own chosen people.
There’s a worse slavery that God wanted to save us from, and it’s not physical and political slavery but moral and spiritual. In our second reading, St. Paul writes, “For many, as I have often told you and now tell you even in tears, conduct themselves as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction. Their God is their stomach; their glory is in their "shame." Their minds are occupied with earthly things.” Slaves are taken by force or bought and sold, but it’s against their will. When we sin we willingly enslave ourselves to forces that are beneath us. We think that these things will make us happy, and in the short term we may even be right, but our experience speaks for itself. We know that every time we sin it leads to more misery than happiness and that, in the long run, holiness is the only path to true and lasting happiness, but we keep doing what we know is wrong over and over, and usually in the same ways. What we need is a new Exodus and a new covenant.
On Mt. Tabor, the mountain of the Transfiguration, Jesus begins to prepare His disciples for the new Exodus. He gives Peter, James, and John a glimpse of His glory to strengthen their faith, knowing that their faith will be tested by His crucifixion and death. Then it says, “And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Moses and Elijah represent the two parts of the Old Testament, the Law, Moses, and the Prophets, Elijah, and they’re talking to Jesus about His crucifixion, but they call it “his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” Through His crucifixion Jesus will accomplish a new exodus and free His people from slavery to sin and death.
So that’s the new exodus, but I also mentioned a new covenant. Did you know that another word for covenant is testament? We call the part of the Bible that talks about Jesus the New Testament, of course, but the phrase New Testament, or new covenant, only appears once in the New Testament, and it’s not talking about the Bible. At the Last Supper, Jesus takes the chalice filled with wine and, giving it to His disciples, tells them, “Take this and drink of it. This is the chalice of the New Covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this in commemoration of me.” In the Bible, the term New Covenant refers the crucifixion of Jesus and to the Mass, in which we commemorate the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Through the Eucharist we are united to Jesus Christ and become children of God, which was God’s plan for us all along. We are not just restored to the grace that we lost through sin but lifted up to an even higher place. In one of his Christmas homilies Pope St. Leo the Great put it this way, “Christian, remember your dignity, and now that you share in God's own nature, do not return by sin to your former base condition. Bear in mind who is your head and of whose body you are a member. Do not forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of God's kingdom.
Through the sacrament of baptism you have become a temple of the Holy Spirit. Do not drive away so great a guest by evil conduct and become again a slave to the devil, for your liberty was bought by the blood of Christ.”
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.