February 24, 2013 - Second Sunday of Lent
Gn 15:5-12, 17-18: Phil 3:17-4:1; Lk 9:28b-36
THE LAND THAT IDENTIFIES US
We human beings are people of the land - even in the midst of urban life in the 21st Century. We are deeply connected to the land, as we are made of the same "stuff." The Lord God formed man out of the clay of the ground. (Gn 2:7) We continue to find significance and value in "our land."
Remember one of the first and still well known songs of Peter, Paul, and Mary (feel free to sing along as you read this. . .)
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream Waters
This land was made for you and me.
People seem very interested in researching their roots, and are making use of the website ancestry.com, not only investigating ancestors but the place, the land where they lived. City-dwellers and apartment dwellers may be assigned a relatively small piece of land in which to plant their spring and summer gardens of flowers and vegetables. There is such pride in the crop.
Our attachment to and experience of the land tends to identify us. In Philadelphia for example, when people are asked where they live, they often do not give street names or a part of the city, but the parish where they live. The "land" of the parish, and its community, identify the people.
This is a theme in the readings we are given to hear on this Second Sunday of Lent. In the familiar first reading from Genesis, the land is a powerful sign of the covenant with Yahweh: God spoke to Abraham saying: I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land as a possession. And then later, To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the Great River, the Euphrates. And so, this covenant, with the land as its sign, identified Abraham and his descendants as the chosen people of God. The covenant and the land are wound together, much like the illustrations we see of DNA helix. We are defined by our DNA; the people of ancient Israel are defined by the covenant and the land.
The Gospel for this Sunday is again a familiar story, the Transfiguration. Jesus took Peter, James, and John and went up the mountain to pray. From the time of Moses, going up the mountain is always a place of meeting with God. It is here, on a high mountain with an extraordinary view of the land that Jesus is himself identified, as one with Moses and Elijah. Upon seeing this true identity of Jesus, Peter offers to "stake their claim" to the place by building three tents right there.
There is more! The divine assurance of the identity of Jesus is heard: Then from the cloud came a voice that said: "This is my chosen Son, listen to him."
Such an encounter most certainly led Peter, James, and John to identify themselves as disciples of this Jesus, which happened on the mountain top, looking out on the expanse of land. They saw the Christ! After that, nothing was the same. Such a place, such an experience of revelation becomes holy ground for us in the same way as the place and experience of Moses at the burning bush.
In this season of Lent, when we join with the catechumens and the baptized in being renewed, in preparation for the great Easter Vigil, we remember "the land" where we belong, the place where we have encountered the Christ. And, we are reminded of our own identity as the people of God, as a follower of Christ. Thus, with Paul in the letter to the people of Philipi, the second reading today, we acknowledge that our citizenship is in heaven. Our true land, our home, is the reign of God.
Sallie Latkovich, C.S.J.
Director of Bible Study and Travel, Director of the Summer Institute, and Adjunct Professor
*If the topic of the land is of interest to you, here are some further suggestions for reading:
THE LAND, PLACE AS GIFT, PROMISE, AND CHALLENGE IN BIBLICAL FAITH by Walter Brueggemann, Fortress Press, 2002.
LANDSCAPES OF THE SOUL: A SPIRITUALITY OF PLACE by Robert Hamma, Ave Maria Press, 2007.
THE YAHWIST'S LANDSCAPE: NATURE AND RELIGION IN EARLY ISRAEL by Theodore Hiebert, Oxford University Press, 1996.
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