Abram was a shepherd, from Ur of the Chaldees (in contemporary Iraq). Jesus was a carpenter from Nazareth in the Galilee. Paul was a tent maker from Tarsus, a city in Cilicia to the north of Syria who had become a student and teacher of the Law in Jerusalem. Each heard God’s call and responded in faith.
Abram had already left his homeland with his flocks and family and was living in Haran, an area that is now part of Türkiye. He heard the Lord’s call to move south to Shechem in the land of Canaan. (Gn 12:1-4a) This was a big deal. Gods were believed to be local to a geographic area. Yet his God was telling him to go to a new area, where the people worshiped other gods. God promised that a great nation would grow from this man who had no children at the time. Abram took God at his word and moved his family south. Much to his relief, I imagine, God was present in the new land too.
Just as God had promised, Abram became the father of not one but two great peoples, the Arabs and the Jews. And through his obedience to the call, blessings have come to all the communities of the earth.
Jesus too listened to God’s voice calling him at his baptism in the Jordan River. When he returned from his forty-day retreat in the desert, he began proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of God was at hand. The time had come in which the people’s relationship with God would be mended. The signs of this new kingdom would include the poor hearing good news, the blind seeing, the deaf hearing, those who were crippled being healed. It was a different kind of kingdom than the one expected by his contemporaries. But many people followed him. It wasn’t every day that one could see a healer at work or hear new teachings.
Jesus had some very close friends with whom he shared the last three years of his life. He took three of them up on a mountain one day. (Mt 17:1-9) Mountains in Scripture are often places where God meets people. This was no exception. On this day, both Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the Prophets) appeared and spoke with Jesus about what was coming. His friends were astounded. Jesus’ face was shining like the sun and his clothing was blazing white. They rightly understood that God was present in that moment, his light shining through Jesus. Peter suggested that three tents could be set up, so Moses, Elijah, and Jesus would have a comfortable place to stay. Then they heard God’s voice telling them that this was his beloved son, to whom they should listen. This confirmed God’s presence there and they were afraid. They fell to the ground in worship.
The moment passed. Jesus touched them. Instructed them to get up. And as they went back down the mountain, he told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after he had risen from the dead. Of course, they had no idea what that meant, but we’ve all been told about it now – after the Resurrection.
Paul too had an encounter with the Risen Jesus. Another brilliant light experience. He was blinded for a few days afterwards. Then he got busy and devoted the rest of his life to telling what he had learned and experienced of God’s love and presence. He traveled through much of the ancient world between Jerusalem and Greece, all the way to Rome. His letters tell us today what he learned of God’s call and support for each of us in living the new way of love and service. (2 Tim 1:8b-10) He reminds us that God is the one who called us and will support us through any and all hardships that come our way as a result of following Jesus.
When I was in grade school, some of my teachers told us that we shouldn’t expect great or outstanding things to happen to us as followers of Christ. The miracles pretty much had all happened long ago.
For the most part, we do go through our lives with few surprise interventions from the divine world. At least, we don’t notice them most days. The sun rising, the moon and stars at night, the smiles of those we love, the people with whom we interact – all seem very normal. Nothing special there, folks.
Yet I believe we sell ourselves and our lives short when we say it’s all just ordinary. Amazing things still happen. God touches people directly and indirectly even today. We don’t talk about it much, but it happens.
There is a light shining just below the surface of the world around us. We don’t see it most of the time. But there are moments when it breaks through. A child races down the sidewalk to give us a hug. A friend calls just to say hello. The clouds pick up the sun’s rays at just the right moment to paint the sky with shades of rose. A bird greets us when we walk out the door in the morning, then picks up the treat it has just found and hides it in a neighbor’s gutter, planning to come back and enjoy more of it later. (No kidding. I watched a crow do just that a couple of weeks ago!)
Remember the words of the song, “You light up my life…” Remember the times you have seen someone’s face light up with delight. We speak of lighted faces. God is shining through those faces, smiling at each of us. May we each day be open and transparent enough in our interactions with others that God’s smile shines through us as well.
Abram, Jesus, and Paul were not the only ones whom God has called to go forth and bring blessing to the world through our lives. He calls ordinary people in all ages, including each of us too. The light continues to shine forth. Not as brightly as it did through Jesus at the Transfiguration, but enough that it can be noticed as a calming, reassuring, and powerful sign of love.
Here’s to the light!
Readings for the Second Sunday of Lent – Cycle A