Second Sunday of Lent, March 8, 2020
Abram, soon to be renamed Abraham, and his wife Sarah, were smart and prosperous but they had no children. God unexpectedly starts a new relationship with them.
Timothy was a young church leader suffering a crisis of confidence. He gets some encouragement from a senior apostle, who puts his problems in a larger context.
Early in their following of Jesus, a few disciples get a privileged revelation of who Jesus is and how he fulfills their tradition.
The Literary-Liturgical Setting: Last Sunday's first reading, from Genesis, chapters 2 & 3, dealt with God's first human creatures. A later section, Genesis, chapters 6 through 9, deals with the near destruction of that people in the Flood, and its renewal in Noah. Today, in the next major episode of Genesis, we come to another inauguration of a group of God's people.
Abram, whose name will soon become Abraham, is the first person in a new era to hear and respond to God. So everything that happens to him is a kind of prototype of the life of faith. And today's passage is really the first encounter between Abram and God. Abram was prosperous in land and livestock, but he had no children, and that, to people of his time, is the most serious of all possible deprivations. So God's first words to him are quite daring:
Leave what you have and I'll give you what you want.
When God says "I will make of you a great nation," the meaning is that God will create a great race out of the descendants of Abram (although it seems there are to be no such descendants naturally). But God's requirements are absolute, "Go forth from the land of your kin." The requirements are to become even more absolute when, after Abraham finally has a son, God asks him to sacrifice that same son (see the second reading at the Easter Vigil, Genesis 22:1-18.)
Proclaiming It: This is a straightforward story about a very difficult decision. Make God's call in the first sentence sound as demanding as it is. (Remember receiving your draft notice? This was a much bigger deal than that.) Make God's promise (not just an heir to this childless man, but a nation of descendants!) sound rich and extravagant. Make your voice expansive. And finally, when you say "Abram went as the Lord directed him," make it sound matter-of-fact, as if Abram hesitated not at all.
A Theological Reflection: Proclaimed thus, this becomes a prototype of the life of faith: God asks us to leave the bad and the good for the unknown better, and we should simply go.
Our Liturgical Setting: This passage has some Lenten themes: bearing hardship for the gospel, being saved and called to holiness not on our merits but by grace, and the destruction of death and advent of immortality. The phrase "manifest through the appearance of our savior" may be a reference to today's gospel, Matthew 17:1-9. That is the story of Jesus' transfiguration, traditionally read on the second Sunday of Lent.
Proclaiming It: It's hard to make a case for any particular oral interpretation. You might decide by asking which, if any, of these themes resonate in your own heart, or describe your own journey of faith:
At Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, U.S.A., The Divinity Library within the Jean and Alexander Heard Library hosts a web site dedicated to the Revised Common Lectionary. For every Sunday and major feast, there's a page dedicated to the R.C.L. lections. And there is a link that searches their Art in the Christian Tradition database for artworks that express themes connected to the readings. Here's the art page for Transfiguration Sunday (which Protestants celebrate on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday).
Update of June, 2017: When I first published this page in January, 2017, The Library, always careful to attribute every image it displays, seemed unable to do so for this one. In June, 2017, preparing Lector's Notes for the August 6 Catholic feast of the Transfiguration, I revisited this page. I dragged the graphic into the search bar of images.google.com, and Google obligingly returned a link to the German wikipedia page about the artist Laurentius Ulrich Englisch. Mystery solved. The Vanderbilt Library has already credited Father Englisch.
This page updated January 28, 2020