Sunday Scripture: Hidden truths
Wednesday, February 24, 2010
By Terrance Callan
Second Sunday of Lent: Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28-36
We are often misled by the things we hear and see. When we observe someone’s behavior, we may completely misunderstand the motive for it. Full understanding requires more than simply watching someone. Faith in God is even more dependent on information inaccessible to our senses.
The reading from the Book of Genesis tells us about the faith of Abram. God promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars of heaven. At the time Abram had no children, and he and his wife were already old. Even though it seemed rather unlikely that Abram would have any children, much less very numerous descendants, Abram did not question this promise at all, but simply put faith in God.
God also promised to give Abram and his descendants the land of Canaan. When Abram asked how he was to know that he would possess it, God made a covenant with Abram to confirm the promise. Abram cut in half a heifer and a she-goat and placed the pieces opposite one another. During the night Abram fell into a trance, and a smoking fire-pot and a flaming torch passed between the pieces. In this way God assured Abram.
The reading from the Gospel according to Luke tells the story of Jesus’ transfiguration. This was a temporary revelation of the ordinarily hidden reality of Jesus. Though Jesus usually seemed to be an ordinary man, on this occasion a voice from heaven said about Him, “This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.”
And this hidden reality of Jesus was also revealed by a temporary transformation of the way He looked; for a short time His face changed in appearance and His clothes became dazzling white. In order to affirm the hidden reality of Jesus, we, like Abram, must look beyond the veil of appearances. The story of Jesus’ temporary transfiguration helps us to do so.
The reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians tells us that our faith is affirmation not only of the hidden truth about Jesus, but also of the hidden truth about ourselves. As Christians we do not seem to be much different from others with whom we live in this world. But to accept this appearance for reality is a mistake. As Christians, Paul says, we should not have minds “occupied with earthly things” because “our citizenship is in heaven.” When Jesus comes to us from heaven, “He will change our lowly body to conform with His glorified body.”
The reality of Jesus that came into view temporarily at His transfiguration became His permanent state after His death and resurrection. Nevertheless, it still remains hidden from us because Jesus is no longer with us physically. And we are now in the same situation as Jesus was during His ministry. We are destined to be transformed by Jesus, but that destiny is hidden from us and others, and can only be affirmed in faith.
Our beliefs can easily become so familiar to us that we forget how different they are from ordinary common sense. It is good to realize that what we believe is not obvious. The readings for this Sunday remind us of this, challenging us to embrace our faith more firmly and self-consciously, and awakening our gratitude to God for the ability to believe.
Callan is a faculty member at the Athenaeum of Ohio.