Lent is about the desert. It is there that we lay aside everything that is unnecessary and are left with just ourselves. If we stay there long enough with no one to talk to, with no distractions or diversions, no noise to mask the little falsehoods we tell ourselves to cover who and what we really are, we are finally forced to enter into a conversation with ourselves in which we are likely to discover ourselves as we really are. This is a moment of self-revelation.
We do not have to take this reflective journey into the desert, but we should recognize how many times the opportunity is taken away from us. Circumstances will sometimes demand that we make a decision quickly with little opportunity for reflection. At this kind of moment we have to rely on our true character; and then our true character will be laid open for all to see. What is important is that such moments, bad or good, become holy moments wherein we can develop a character that is virtuous. Whether reflecting in the desert or having to make instant decisions, when all the surface layers are stripped away, when the defenses are gone, God moves in. In these moments we not only discover truth about ourselves, we discover truth about God as well.
Our readings offer us two such moments. We see Abraham in a quick-decision moment and Jesus in reflection. In Abraham we see who we are called to be. In Jesus, we see who God is. In the disciples, we see our response.
In Abraham, we see a model of right relationship with God, and in the passage from Genesis we see what can happen when a quick decision comes from a character that has been formed in God. We think of Abraham as a tower of virtue and wisdom. If we explore Abraham’s life in Genesis, however, we will see that he is far from perfect. Rather, we will discover a flawed and contradictory human being.
Not always virtuous, Abraham was at times impatient and deceitful. Despite his close and intimate relationship with God, despite personal knowledge and experience of God who had always protected him, Abraham did not always allow himself to trust God.
In the story of Abraham and Isaac, we are offered the one moment when everything is stripped from Abraham.
Abraham’s whole life and joy was wrapped up in his son Isaac. God forced Abraham into a moment of decision, one of those moments in which there is no time to think. God told Abraham to choose between Him and Isaac. When the moment came, when Abraham had only his true character to rely on, he chose God.
Despite a history of vacillating between faith and distrust, Abraham was willing to sacrifice everything for God.
In this flash of character revelation, Abraham revealed himself to the world and also showed us who we are called to be. We can rejoice in God’s response. Abraham, a flawed man, still managed to build a character based on his relationship with God. This story offers hope that we too can possess a character that will serve to lead us to God and virtue.
Ultimately we come to know Jesus’ character in the moment of His decision to accept His Father’s will and go to the Cross. That moment of decision saved us. In our reading from Mark, we see the glory of such a character revealed. It is awesome to behold.
Our personal story is found in the reactions of the disciples. We become so intimidated at the thought of being so close to God that we literally lose our heads. Through his offer to erect lodging for shade and rest, Peter made a noble gesture in offering comfort to Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The Father himself replied to the offer. It was not rebuffed, but Peter and his companions were urged to pay attention and to listen. Although Peter’s was a good and generous response, it was off the mark. When confronted with God’s revealing himself, we too are called to listen, to take in as much as we are able. Our personal glimpses of the glory and majesty of God are fleeting and brief. We must savor them.
When Jesus reveals himself, we see God. The whole point of the Lenten journey is go into desert and see ourselves as we are and, in so doing, come to see God. Abraham offers us the hope that we can do just that. The disciples offer us a lesson about what to do when the moment comes. We are to listen, take it in, and then strive to understand. In this way, we can build a character within us that keeps the vision alive so that when the opportunity comes to reveal our truest character, the vision of God and our faithfulness will be revealed. We must use Lent well.