A Scriptural Reflection on the Second Sunday of Lent | Carl E. Olson | February 28, 2010
Readings for Sunday, February 28, 2010:Some critics of Catholicism complain that it is too earthly, material, and even violent, with far too much talk of death and dying. Others bemoan that it is too heavenly minded, overly focused on the world of come, as evidenced by odd rituals and promises of eternal life. In reality, G. K. Chesterton argued in his brilliant book Orthodoxy, the strange shapes of Catholicism come together to form a key that opens the lock to truth and understanding.
• Gen 15:5-12, 17-18
• Psa 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14
• Phil 3:17-4:1 or 3:20-4:1
• Lk 9:28b-36
Consider today’s Old Testament reading, which describes an event that will seem unsettling to modern readers. Abram is commanded by God to bring together some animals and birds, sacrifice them, and then wait among them. Years later this same man would nearly sacrifice his only son, again at the request of his God. Yet the Church recognizes Abraham as the great man of faith who, called by God, was obedient, thus becoming “the father of a multitude of nations’” (CCC 59). Abraham’s relationship with God sets the tone for the sacred history recorded in the Old Testament and points toward the “fullness of time” and his seed, Jesus Christ.
In order to better understand the story of Abram and his sacrifices, we need to backtrack a bit. When God called Abram to leave his home, land and family (Gen 12:1-3), it was a definitive moment in the history of humanity and salvation. Jean Cardinal Daniélou goes so far as to state that this call to Abram was “an almost unique happening, paralleled only by the Creation of the world, and Christ’s Incarnation.” At the core of Abraham’s relationship with God was the berith: the covenant. An essential feature of a covenant was that it had to be confirmed by an oath, which solemnly bound the two parties together.
This oath was often connected with a ceremony involving a sacrifice; in the case of Abram the splitting in two of animals, which was a way of declaring, “If I fail to keep this oath, may I be cursed and killed as these animals.” This “cutting of a covenant”, as it is called, was an act of self-cursing that indicated the importance of the covenant and God’s absolute promise to fulfill it. When the frightening theophany ended, the covenantal promise was given to Abram, repeating the initial promise of land along with physical boundaries of the future kingdom’s extent.
Fast forward to about A.D. 30. Accompanied by the three disciples closest to Him, Jesus goes up the mountain to pray. That moment of contemplative serenity was suddenly transformed by dazzling light as the two greatest prophets of the Old Testament appeared and began conversing with the Prophet, the one spoken of by Moses: “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kinsmen; to him you shall listen” (Deut 18:15).
Luke’s account emphasizes Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, the glory bestowed upon the Chosen One of Israel, and the suffering that would be necessary to fulfill His Father’s will and establish a new covenant and kingdom. God’s glory and the Kingdom are closely related to one another, having already been mentioned together immediately prior to this event (Lk 9:26-27).
Like Moses, Jesus would lead His people on an exodus out of bondage. Like Moses, Jesus would establish a covenant with Israel—the new Israel, the Church. Like Moses on Mount Sinai, Jesus would shine with the glory of God. But as Peter found out upon suggesting a memorial for the three men, Jesus is far greater than Moses or Elijah: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.”
The covenant with Abraham was sealed with the blood of sacrifices. The new covenant established by Christ is fulfilled and sealed by His bloody, sacrificial death on the Cross. And “pledge of glory” for the people of the new covenant? The Eucharist, which “already gives us a foretaste of Christ's transfiguration of our bodies” (CCC 2000; cf. CCC 1419).
Thus earth and heaven meet in the Incarnate Word, who became man so He could open the doors to heaven with the key of the Cross.
(This "Opening the Word" column originally appeared in the March 4, 2007, edition of Our Sunday Visitor newspaper.)
Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Book Excerpts:
• Who Creates Anew? A Lenten Reflection for the First Sunday of Lent, Feb. 21, 2010 | Carl E. Olson
• Lent: Why the Christian Must Deny Himself | Brother Austin G. Murphy, O.S.B.
• Lord, Teach Us To Pray | Fr. Jerome Bertram
• The Question of Suffering, the Response of the Cross | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
• The Cross--For Us | Hans Urs von Balthasar
• The Premises of Gospel Poverty | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
• Lent and "Our Father": The Path of Prayer | Carl E. Olson
• Thirsting and Quenching | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
• Seeking Deep Conversion | From Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
• "Lord, teach us to pray" | From Earthen Vessels | Gabriel Bunge, O.S.B.
• The Religion of Jesus | From Christ, The Ideal of the Priest | Blessed Columba Marmion