This homily was written for high school students for the Second Sunday of Lent in Cycle C.
First Reading Genesis 15:5–12, 17–18
Response Psalm 27:1a
Psalm Psalm 27:1, 7–9, 13–14
Second Reading Philippians 3:17–4:1 or Philippians 3:20–4:1
Gospel Acclamation Matthew 17:5
Gospel Luke 9:28b–36
Has your life ever seemed like it was falling apart around you?
Have you ever just plain not known where to go or which way to turn?
Every single teacher is giving too much work.
There’s a test Friday, and you don’t think there’s any way you will know everything to pass it.
Or you just finished your test, and you’re sure you failed.
Mom and Dad are always fighting or constantly telling you “you’re not good enough.”
Mom just lost her job, and Dad’s gone. You don’t know how you are going to stay in your home.
Your girlfriend dumped you.
Your boyfriend cheated on you.
I could go on and on. Some of you could probably add to my list catastrophes and challenges I would never dream of, but you get the idea. Sometimes life just feels like more than we can handle.
I suspect Abram felt that way at times. God had called him and told him to leave his homeland and go somewhere unknown, so, he did. God promised descendants, lots of them, once before, and Abram trusted him. Now, Abram was an old man, and the descendants were nowhere in sight. In fact, his only child was with Sarai’s handmaid, not his wife, and he and Sarai were now far too old to have children. But God did not tell him that he missed his chance. Rather, He comes to Abram and repeats that same promise, that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky.
Now, I can tell you, if I were in Abram’s shoes, I probably would have reminded God that He had promised that once already and failed to keep his end of the bargain. I certainly wouldn’t be described as putting my “faith in the Lord who credited it to [me] as an act of righteousness.” (Gn 15:6) But I was not there. Abram was, and he did exactly that.
Abram had just enough memory of the last few years, though, to ask for confirmation. He seemed to say, “Are you sure? Did I miss something last time around?” God could have cut him loose right there, but he didn’t. Instead, God gave him the sign he requested and even took a step further. God entered a covenant with Abram. That’s what that whole action of the animals cut in half is. God could not fail to keep His promise, now, without making Himself a liar.
So Abram prepared the animals for the covenant ritual, and then sat down to wait. God did not immediately appear to him, though. First, “birds of prey swooped down on the carcasses.” (Gn 15:11) Some translations tell us that Abram scared the birds away; others just say he stayed with his offering to God. Either way, he had to suffer these birds of pray trying to mess up his plan. In the same way, God has made many promises to us, but, along the way, we have to stand firm, some birds of prey, we chase away while others we just have to survive. When our lives seem to crumble around us, we have to stand firm and trust in the promise God made. Notice that, even when the birds of prey did their worst, Abram stayed, and God stayed hidden. It was not until after that test that God made His presence clear. We each have birds of prey in our lives; they will always test our resolve. Often, it is not until after they test us that we see God to realize what He helped us through.
In the same way, the apostles were going to need reassurance of whom they had been following for three years when Jesus went to the cross and suffered and died. Right before the Transfiguration, Jesus told his disciples that following him is more than just following a nice set of sayings. It is more than just being nice to each other for a change. Following Jesus means taking up our crosses each and every day and following him. It means drinking of the cup he drinks and being baptized with the baptism with which he is to be baptized. But, how do we know that, by doing this, we will have eternal life? He gives us a sign. Only three of his apostles were with him on that mountaintop, but tell us what happened. We are those who have not seen, but must believe. This is the sign that kept John faithful enough to stand at the foot of the cross with Mary and the sign that still saw Peter deny Jesus and follow only at a distance to the crucifixion. So, with Peter, if we have fallen away, but turn back and repent, we still have hope, and I am always ready to hear your confession if that’s you.
So, when life seems to throw more than we can handle at us, when our own birds of prey come to try to eat away at our once-passionate resolve, when we deny Christ and follow at such a distance that no one will think we are one of his, those are the times we must look back to God’s presence, the signs he has already worked in our own lives and the signs that the witnesses before us, the saints, recount. Those are the times when we may cry out with the Psalmist:
Hear the sound of my call!
Have pity on me and answer me!
But we also may have to remember that it is not until after the cross that we can look back and see the working of God. I guarantee you, on Good Friday, none of the apostles knew what was going to happen on Sunday morning. So when we are in our own Good Friday, when we are encountering our birds of prey tearing at our lives and our resolve, each of us must put our faith in the Lord, and he will credit it to us as an act of righteousness.