The readings for the Second Sunday of Lent can be found here.
From the beginning of time with Adam and Eve, we can see a tendency among people to believe that we know better than God. In our own lives, we might think how easily we get frustrated when things do not go according to our plan. And if we examine our prayer life, we might discover that much of it consists in making petitions to God for what we think is best for our lives and the lives of people around us.
Perhaps this is why the faith of Abram is so distinctive. He and Sarah are an aged and infertile couple, settled in a comfortable lifestyle. Yet at the word of God, he leaves this land and believes the blessings promised to him by God. He does not presume to know better or think that his own plans might be more successful. Our responsorial psalm for the day builds on this with the refrain: “Lord, let your mercy be on us, as we place our trust in you” (Ps. 33:22). The whole psalm is filled with confidence in God, emphasizing that God’s works are trustworthy, and he truly wants the best for us. So also the second reading from 2 Timothy, which says of Christ: “He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works, but according to his own design” (2 Tim 1:9).
Of course, we don’t always know the will of God. We lack the direct guidance such as Abram received. We can’t recognize God’s own design. So we blunder about, doing the best we can, but also making our share of mistakes. St. Peter would understand. In today’s gospel from Matthew, we encounter that famous story of the Transfiguration. Peter, James, and John were privileged to be with Jesus when his glory was revealed, complete with the appearance of Moses and Elijah. Peter clearly recognizes the magnitude of the moment and just wants to do his best. But his interjection with the suggestion he make three tents comes across as quite silly, especially when the voice from the cloud interrupts and talks over Peter, as if to show just how foolish is this idea of the tents.
And yet, Jesus does nothing to confirm that Peter, James, and John are ridiculous and undeserving of the moment. Instead he tells them to rise and not be afraid. As they descend, Jesus adds something else: they should not tell anyone about this vision until his resurrection. As the readers and listeners to this text, we know the dramatic irony. We already know that Jesus will suffer, die, be buried, and rise again. Knowing the text as a whole, we can already appreciate the significance of the Transfiguration.
For Peter, James, and John, however, they have seen something that they can’t really understand; that’s why Peter suggests the tents. Nor will they really grasp the Transfiguration until they meet Jesus again in the Upper Room in his glorified, resurrected body.
So also, we can’t always tell God’s plan in the moment. Even if we devote hours to discernment, we may never figure out what is God’s will for us. Like Peter, we blunder along, doing what seems to be best right now. Sometimes we find that God has “talked over us” too, with other plans that might make no sense to us. Perhaps years later, when we look back, we can see how God’s grace worked in that situation. We were crushed not to get into the program of study we wanted, but if we had we would never have met our spouse. Our child didn’t make that competitive swim team, but because of that he discovered a love of basketball that becomes a passion. The examples go on and on if we take the time to reflect on key events in our lives.
The message we take from this is one of humility. There is nothing wrong with doing our best when that means trying to align our will with God’s; in fact, this is precisely what we should do. But we must not become too attached to our efforts. Our confidence comes from our trust in God. If our ideas turn out to be foolish, God can save that situation and perhaps even teach us something about depending on him in our failure. If things work out to bring us joy, we can praise and thank God for that success. If we encounter undeserved hardship, we can embrace that too, uniting it with the cross of Christ.