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Our Citizenship Is In Heaven
"This is my chosen son; listen to him"
The Readings chosen for the 2nd Sunday of Lent call us to take a moment to consider our destiny. As human beings who are subject to various self-imposed standards, we constantly contemplate and oftentimes even obsess over our destiny here on Earth, particularly and quite naturally through the prism of Earthly measures.
WIll I be promoted to management?
Will my application to the prestigious local country club be accepted?
Will I one day graduate to an upscale neighborhood with a high-end luxury automobile in the garage to squire me to and fro?
Jesus however is interested in matters far more critical and everlasting than plush corner offices, 9-irons and exclusive zip codes. It's our eternal destiny that He asks us to consider. After all, an incredible invitation has been extended:
"Come," says Jesus, "you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.".
Lent provides us with a great opportunity to reflect upon how we may go about inheriting this Kingdom that has been so generously prepared for us. As always though, we will need to shift our mindset and step away from the calendar-driven, black and white world that we are challenged to gracefully navigate and instead think eternally, for it is in fact eternity that we were made.
So what better place to begin that in the beginning, where the Book of Genisis provides us with our 1st Reading and the origin of this sacred covenant:
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18: The Lord God took Abram outside and said "Look up at the sky and count the stars if you can. Just so shall your descendants be. I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession."
Although the Scripture is quick to point out that Abram put his faith in the Lord, he did go on to ask "how am I to know that I shall possess it?". A fair question, considering the sheer magnitude of this sudden turn of events. God then instructs Abram to prepare a three year old heifer, a three year old she-goat, a three year old ram, a turtledove and a young pigeon, which were to be split in two with the halves placed opposite each other.
The cutting up of animals was a common tradition of that time, typically done whenever two individuals entered into a treaty or agreement of some sort. It's interesting to note that birds of prey swept down on the carcasses, perhaps symbolic of the self-doubt and downright fear that oftentimes plays the role of a devouring predator in our lives at our most critical watershed moments. Abram fought them off however, no doubt buoyed by his faith.
As Abram fell into a trance and darkness enveloped him, a smoking fire pot and flaming torch appeared, symbolic of the Lord's presence. The covenant between God and Abram was now forged: "To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Eurphrates".
It was later revealed by Jesus that this promise was made available to all followers, which as we found out a few weeks ago during the 4th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Luke 4:21-30) didn't go over very well with the Israelites, who in their sudden anger attempted to literally push Jesus off the cliff. It was at this moment that Jesus began to embark on the journey of His destiny, one which culminates on Easter Sunday and serves as the cornerstone of our faith.
Paul in his letter to the Philippians (3:17-4:1) takes a slighty different approach, in some ways stealing a page from the George Constanza "opposite theory". For it is in this letter where Paul starts off by telling the Philippians what not to do if one were to adopt an eternity-focused life. By outlining the behavior of these "enemies of the cross", he attempts to chart the course that leads to the eternal kingdom as opposed to the reckless path to destruction.
"Their god is their stomach. Their glory is their "shame" (perhaps an eerie foreshadowing of the blight that is Reality TV, where anxious participant "actors" partake of any silly or degrading act all for a morsel of fleeting fame, a fast paycheck, and the adoration of those who inexplicably watch with unrelenting interest. "Their minds are occupied with earthly things".
"But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He wil change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables HIm to also bring all things into subjection to Himself."
In Luke's Gospel (9:28-36) we catch a glimpse of Jesus transfigured in glory on the mountain. He was there with Moses and Elijah to discuss His ultimate destiny, one in which HE would suffer the indignity of betrayal, rejection and crucifixion. Peter, James and John were asleep as this transpired, perhaps symbolic of our occasional bouts with spirtual lethargy, obsession with comfort or the complacency that can accompany an unexamined life. But as they awaken to see a transfigured Jesus in a robe of dazzling white, Peter quickly exclaims with great exhuberance "Master, it is good that we are here".
Did he truly understand what would be expected of him as a follower of Jesus in the wake of His rapidly approaching date with destiny on the Cross?
Seeking out our eternal destiny requires us to re-think our otherwise business as usual approach to the daily grind. What (seemingly) works here won't get us there.
Bullets and bombs won't do the trick. Batting our eyelashes at the out-of-work inside linebacker who mans the velvet rope won't gain us entry either, nor will a wad of $100 bills, or shrewd networking skills predicated on "who you know" and "not what you know".
A spiritual awakening is in order. We must work on freeing ourselves of the prejudices that blind us. We must take a page from the Prophet Samuel, who upon hearing God's call cried out "Speak Lord, for your servant is listening". Reaching out to our brothers and sisters who are in need, loving God with all our heart, mind and soul. Baby steps.
Lent is a great time to begin to put in the work. The Bible and it's verses will unlock the door, and the Parish in your community reads from it every Sunday.
"This is my chosen son; listen to him"
........our eternal destiny depends on it.