God’s Covenant

2nd Sunday Of Lent.
Cycle C
24th February 2013
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18;
Luke 9: 28-36
Rev. Dcn. Tony van Vuuren

This weekend’s readings testify to the strong and constant desire God has to make contact with us, to invite us into the mystery of his life, to raise us to holiness. He reveals himself and calls us into a Covenant of faith with him. The great biblical figures who responded to God’s call nevertheless remain very human and fallible individuals, and from that fact we should ourselves feel encouraged in our efforts to live up to the exacting demands of the Gospel.

Abraham, in the first reading, and the disciples Peter, James and John in the Gospel, experience something very similar: a mysterious, dramatic, frightening, but unequivocal revelation of God.

The reading from Genesis tells of the solemn covenant God made with Abraham. The story of our redemption could be said to begin here. God did not abandon his fallen people, but through Abraham entered into a special relationship with them.

It was not Abraham, but God Himself who took the initiative and stooped down to enter into a Covenant relationship with Abraham; and even though thereafter the people broke this covenant He did not abandon them.  Abraham himself often failed to keep to his side of the bargain, often lapsing from his original commitment. Even the memory of the overwhelming experience of God’s presence, described in today’ first reading, wasn’t enough to prevent Abraham from being tempted to put his faith in other things and not to trust completely in God. He was tested on at least ten different occasions by God.

What does become clear very quickly is that God doesn’t only make his existence known and leave it at that. As Abraham discovers, in the very act of revealing himself God draws us into a relationship with him, a relationship which makes demands on us. We can either answer “yes” to God and put our faith in him, or we can answer “no” and refuse the vocation or the journey into his life that God invites us to embark on.

We are given this incident from the Old Testament to help us interpret the Gospel account of the Transfiguration and by placing these two events together we see a parallel between Abraham and the three disciples. When the disciples first met Jesus, His miracles and His preaching won them over. Peter, characteristically, was the most fulsome in committing himself to Christ.

Then they witness Jesus’ transfiguration, this strange, terrifying revelation of Jesus’ divine nature and his unique closeness to the Father. And again it’s Peter who responds with the greatest excitement and the most inflated language.

But of course, as we know, even after this mountain top experience, the disciples’ greatest failures and betrayals – especially Peter’s – still lie ahead. As in Abraham’s case they go back on their original decision to put their faith in Jesus.

In the context of Lent, with its extra emphasis on repentance and the searching of conscience, there are maybe a few things we can learn from these great biblical figures, separated by thousands of years but joined by faith in the one true God.

God does not ask for consistent and unfailing perfection from the moment of our first conversion. He knows full well the weakness of our nature and our tendency to become distracted from him and to allow our attention and our devotion to be divided.

What God does ask is that when we fail, we should always recognise what has happened and turn back to him. As both Abraham and the disciples discovered, we may break faith with God several times, abandon the discipline of spiritual life through tiredness and a sense that our failings are too deeply-rooted and that we never make any progress, or simply because we hanker after other goals in life, which the values of the Gospel obstruct.

But God never ceases to call us, to wait for us, and never ceases in his willingness to renew his Covenant.

In our spiritual and moral life it’s important to persevere and never to sink into resentment of the fact that we feel trapped in a cycle of sinning and presenting ourselves, with a sort of simmering humiliation and wounded pride, before an all-perfect God: saying over and over, “it’s me again God, same sins, same flaws”.

The keynote perhaps in our relationship with God is humility, rather than humiliation.

Our Covenant with God involves on our side a clear recognition of the fact that we are creatures, made by him with a purpose and vocation determined by him, which we must discover with prayer and searching and quiet thoughtfulness.

We are all put to the test; but it never comes in the form that we would prefer!

Abraham, Peter and the other men and women God approaches and chooses, were people like this: not heroes, but in many ways frail and all-too fallible. But they were men and women of faith who gave their basic allegiance to God and – despite personal failings – abandoned the pride and self-affirmation that alienates us from God.

And since this is our basic stance concerning God and concerning our purpose and direction in life, even our faults often become the occasion for greater growth – through honesty, through knowledge of God, through  integrity and holiness.

Let’s not forget the conviction found in both the Old and New Testament that even our human sin and evil work towards salvation, if they bring about thoughtfulness and repentance in us, and lead us by way of contrast to a deepening appreciation of goodness, holiness and salvation.

So as we continue in the spirit of the Lenten season, and in a sense accusing ourselves of wrongs done and good undone, let’s feel heartened by the deep meaning that today’s scripture readings give to God’s unfailing fidelity to his Covenant, and the example of these great figures of faith, who turn out to be more like us, perhaps, than we might realize!

Ref: Fr Ken.
Fr Alex.

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