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FEBRUARY 17, 2008: SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT

Readings: 

Genesis 12:1-4a
II Timothy 1:8b-10
Matthew 17:1-9

Some priests of my era insightfully employed a quote from Dag Hammarskjold on their ordination memorial cards. "I don't know who - or what - put the question. I don't know when it was put. I don't ever remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone - or Something - and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life in self-surrender, had a goal.

Hammarskjold, a U.N. Secretary General, was killed in a September 18, 1961 plane crash while on a Congo peace mission. Not only did his words hit a resonant chord in the hearts of those newly ordained men, they do the same for all people of faith. We should have them playing in the background of our minds as we listen to today's three readings.

I always remind my students that our sacred authors create "biblical call narratives" with their readers in mind. Because our writers aren't certain about the actual historical details of the calls they describe, they arrange their narratives in a way which will enable us, their readers, to better understand the implications of our own calls.

For instance, when the II Timothy author mentions, "God saved us and called us to a holy life," he doesn't detail how such calls actually happen. But he does presume, as does Hammarskjold, that everyone who is called is drastically changed by that call. In this case, our call provides us with a "strength that comes from God," a strength which empowers us to "bear (our) share of hardship."

The author hits the faith-nail on the head when he reminds us it's a call to a "holy life," a call to be different from those around us.

We see this holiness dimension front and center in Abraham's call. Though he and his wife Sarah - the first Jews - eventually will be so blessed that people will employ their names when they bless others, divine calls always contain elements of the unknown. "Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from our father's house to a land I will show you." Responding to that "Someone or Something" always demands we give up whatever provides us security. We're constantly walking down a road whose destination is known only to God.

Matthew tells us that even before Jesus' resurrection his followers glimpsed a future for which they and all people of faith long: a transformed world.

As I mentioned above, scholars take for granted today's gospel narrative didn't happen exactly as the evangelist describes it. This mountain top scene depicts an insight we presume all Jesus' followers receive at one time or another, else they wouldn't follow him. For them, Jesus is the epitome of biblical faith - represented by Moses and Elijah. He embodies our hopes for a better word - symbolized by the tents in which people will live when Yahweh arrives to transform the lives of the Chosen People.

There's just one problem. No matter how convincing such insights are, they normally last only a few seconds. "When the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone." We're still expected to carry out our call long after the insight which accompanied that call is long past.

That seems to be why Matthew's Jesus ends the pericope with the command, "Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead." Only after we experience the death our call demands will we experience the life our call offers.

Years before his fatal crash, the called Dag Hammarskjold put this dying/rising concept into more modern terms. "It is when we all play safe that we create a world of utmost insecurity." If everyone ignores God's call, our world will never change for the better.