2nd Sunday of Lent (March 12, 2017)

2nd Sunday of Lent (March 12, 2017)

There were once two identical twins. They were alike in every way but one. One was a hope-filled optimist who only ever saw the bright side of life. The other was a dark pessimist, who only ever saw the down side in every situation. The parents were so worried about the extremes of optimism and pessimism in their boys they took them to the doctor. He suggested a plan. “On their next birthday give the pessimist a shiny new bike, but give the optimist only a pile of manure.” It seemed a fairly extreme thing to do. After all, the parents had always treated their boys equally. But in this instance they decided to try the doctor’s advice. So when the twins’ birthday came around they gave the pessimist the most expensive, top of the range, racing bike a child has ever owned. When he saw the bike his first words were, “I’ll probably crash and break my leg.” To the optimist they gave a carefully wrapped box of manure. He opened it, looked puzzled for a moment, then ran outside screaming, “You can’t fool me! Where there’s this much manure, there’s just gotta be a pony around here somewhere!” [storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/hope/]

Kind of a silly story, but illustrative, I think, of one Scripture message that we hear today, and even perhaps of the greater Christian life.  Not to have it seem that manure is the theme for this homily, but thinking back to celebrating Jesus’ birth at Christmastime, I always like to talk during that season of how the fact that Jesus was born in a stable (which would have most likely had its share of animal mess) shows that He’s willing—perhaps even desiring—to be born in the midst of our mess.  One could even say that without a mess, we wouldn’t need a Messiah. 

But this is not just the case at Christmas.  The Lord continues to be with us in the midst of trial, difficulty, and suffering.  And just as Jesus was born into a mess, through Christ we can be brought through the mess into something or someone new.  Last month I was asked to give a talk to a women’s prayer group, and the topic was basically my life’s story.  I was kind of surprised by some of the reaction afterward, with some folks essentially offering their sympathies for my having had a rough life.  I certainly have not had a rough life, but I think for all of us, we can see that the things that have helped us to grow have often been the challenges, difficulties, and sufferings of life—and so that’s what I tended to focus on.  I believe that’s part of the Paschal Mystery.

We’re here today in the season of Lent.  It is a time known as a season of penitence, and indeed it is.  But just this past week, I heard on Catholic radio the season of Lent being referred once as a season of hope, and another time even as a season of joy (joy at the Easter that is coming). 

Our Scriptures today direct us to the hope of future glory even in the midst of challenge, difficulty, and suffering.  In the Gospel according to Matthew, Jesus’ Transfiguration comes a few days after telling His Apostles of His impending passion, death and resurrection.  Up on that mountain, Peter, James & John got a glimpse of the light of Christ’s true glory.  Peter wanted to stay up there and build tents—and I don’t think we can fault him for this.  But they had to go back down the mountain, back to everyday life, and soon to the day when Jesus’ prediction would come to pass.  But the Transfiguration experience would have showed them—and us—that the glory of God and the glory of the Resurrection is there below the surface, even in hard times. 

In the Book of Genesis, God asked Abram to do what would have been unthinkable: to leave the land of his kinsfolk and strike out for some unknown place for a special mission.  Yet he told Abram that he would make of him a great nation, bless him, and make him a blessing to others.  Do we sometimes question what God is doing in our lives, what God might be asking of us, how God might be calling us out of our comfort zones, and perhaps even asking what seems impossible?  Are we able to trust that when we step out with God, even into the unknown, that we will find blessing on the other side? 

Last Sunday I talked about the gift that God has put into us: the gift of having a share in His life through the saving redemption of Christ.  And it’s because of this same gift that St. Paul can tell Timothy, “Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God…through…Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”  Not only does remembering this gift help us to overcome temptation; it also helps us to overcome suffering and trials.

The Lord gathers us together here today to remember/to celebrate/to encounter “the mystery of faith”:  “We proclaim your death, O Lord, and profess your Resurrection until you come again.”  May the Body and Blood of Christ lead us each day through the Cross and into glory.