Homily: 2nd Sunday in Lent – Cycle B
Michigan mega-church pastor Rob Bell has produced a series of videos that take a simple, straight-forward approach to demonstrating how the Gospel applies to everyday life. In one of the videos that I’ve seen, Mr. Bell speaks about the importance of saying “yes” to something. In doing so, he emphasizes, we can then come to know what it is that we need to say “no” to in our lives. He uses Jesus as an example to illustrate his point, stating that because Jesus said “yes” to do the Father’s will, announcing the Good News and redeeming God’s people, he could say “no” to many other things (like when Jesus turned away when he knew the crowd was going to make him their king).
This is a video (a short film, really) and so of course there is a visual component to his speaking. In the film, the whole time that he is talking he’s walking, seemingly from one side of a city to another. At first his surroundings just seem like normal busy streets, but if you’re paying attention you begin to notice that the surroundings are part of the point. The visual noises are distractions that surround him as he walks. At a couple of points, a person actually walks in between Mr. Bell and the camera as he’s walking, but he never loses his stride until he arrives at his destination (which happens to be a school where he meets a young boy that we are to assume is his son). The well-made point of both his words and the visual presentation is to emphasize how knowing to what it is that we have said “yes” keeps us focused (i.e. able to say “no”) in the midst of the world’s distractions.
Our scriptures today lead us to think about how God’s voice gets into the middle of people’s lives. In our first reading, Abraham hears God’s voice, who commands him to do something horrific: to take his son Isaac (that is, the son that God had promised to him as the first of the innumerable descendants that Abraham would have) and how Abraham followed what God had asked him to do. This, of course, was not the first time that Abraham had said “yes” to God. In fact, it was many years before, when Abraham was still “Abram”, that God first called Abraham and directed him to leave the land of his fathers to travel to a land which he would show him. That was when Abraham first said his “yes” to God. In the many years that followed, Abraham maintained that “yes” to God; and so, when God asked Abraham to give his son Isaac back to him, Abraham could say “yes” once again. /// Because he was clear about to what he had said “yes”, Abraham could say “no” to everything else.
In the Gospel, Jesus takes Peter, James, and John on a hike up to a high place. Knowing that Jesus often did this to have a quiet place where he could teach or pray, I’m guessing that the three were anticipating a quiet afternoon. But then, the Transfiguration… Moses and Elijah… And, to top it all off, the voice of God booms out from the thick cloud that had descended upon them. They had already said “yes” to Jesus when they responded to his call to leave their nets and follow him. Now their “yes” had to go deeper (like Abraham’s had to go deeper). In commanding these three to “listen to him”, the Father was, in essence, saying, “Obey him completely”. And how soon would this be tested? As soon as they started down from the high place: The Gospel says that “…[Jesus] charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.” /// Because they had seen the full glory of that to which they had said “yes”, Peter, James, and John could then say “no” to everything else.
And so, the question comes to us: “To whom (or to what) have I said ‘yes’?” To answer this question, we need to take a look at to whose voice we listen and to whose we don’t. This is an examination of conscience. Is it God’s voice to which you listen? Or is it to one (or more) of the many other voices that fill your day? The ones, perhaps, who are closest to you and whose opinions and good graces you value highly? If the voice to which you listen—that is, the voice to which you have said “yes”—isn’t God’s, then Lent is the time to “re-orient your hearing”, so to speak.
In our second reading, Saint Paul reminds us powerfully that we should be listening—that is, giving our “yes”—to God. In it, Paul is asking: "Who has done more for us besides God?" God, who has given up his only son for us (and, in this context, we can add even when he didn't make Abraham do so). If he has given us that much, Paul continues, how will he not give us everything else we need in this world, which is clearly much less valuable? Then he asks, "If God has done this for us, then who should we fear in this world?" For no one has more power than God and He has proven that he is "for" us (that is, “on our side”). Thus, who (or what) have we to fear? If it is God who ultimately decides our fate, then we must fear (that is, listen to) him alone.
Okay, so how do I hear God’s voice and, thus, demonstrate my "yes" to God? Well, first and foremost, follow his commandments. Maybe you’re not hearing the voice of God speaking into your ear like Abraham did, but Abraham didn’t have the commandments: we do. The commandments (and the moral teachings of Holy Mother Church which stem from them) are the voice of God for each of us. If we are not following those, then we are certainly not giving our full “yes” to God. Examine your conscience, then, and see if you are following his commandments. If not, repent. Seek forgiveness through the sacrament of Reconciliation and resolve to follow them from this point forward.
Second, fulfill your vocation. Whatever calling God has given to you (marriage, parenthood, the single life…), learn what it looks like to live this virtuously and then live it. The Church Fathers tell us that every creature gives great glory to God by simply being fully what it is that God made it to be. The same goes for us. If you are a husband or wife, be the best husband or wife you can be. If you are a parent, be the best parent you can be. If you are single, be the best servant of others that you can be. (Each of which are measured by the Christian law of charity, of course.) If we’re falling short, then, again, we need to repent and resolve to become the best, according to our abilities. And why these? Because then you'll be on the same wavelength as God and you will be able to hear other, specific ways in which he wants you to act.
My friends, Lent is about restoring our "yes" to God and to his voice. Our Lenten practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving ought to have as their goal helping us to restore it. And this, so that, through obedience, we would receive the blessings promised to Abraham, because of his obedience. And, still further, so that God's kingdom—which is nothing short than seeing the Glorious Face of Jesus—would be made known among us. May our Blessed Mother Mary, whose “yes” brought Christ our Savior to us, be for us a model; and may her prayers lead us to this glory that each of our hearts seeks.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – February 24th & 25th, 2018