Second Sunday of Lent; Luke :1-13
Lord of all ordinariness, Lord of all miracle, transform us, transfigure us, make us your own!
February is the shortest month of course but to me it always feels like the longest. It’s still winter but I can’t wait for spring. One gray day follows another. Everything is ragged and muddy and tired.
And my big temptation in moments like this is to start eating, especially sweet things, or to collapse on the couch and watch TV all day, especially something with spaceships, or to go online and start buying things, especially shiny things. I don’t want to face reality. I don’t want to face myself.
I don’t want to face reality. I don’t want to face myself.
I think what’s amazing about Jesus in the temptation in the wilderness in last week’s readings is how willing he is to accept how boring life can be. The devil is really saying, let’s do something exciting, let’s distract ourselves from this ordinary reality, and Jesus can, of course. He’s God himself, full of power and miraculous potential. Why not just go ahead and zap something, turn a rock into a loaf of bread, if only to relieve the tedium?
But Jesus knows that miracles are not the point. However many rocks get turned into loaves, you still have to face your own limitations and needs, you still have to act with compassion, you still have to get up in the morning and go to work.
I really admired how in his homily last week Father Ignacio was calling us to battle temptation, and not just with nice thoughts and vague intentions but with concrete, Lenten practices, with old-fashioned fasting and self-control. I really admired how in his homily on Ash Wednesday he said yes, we can be holy, and there are ways we can act to help us move towards holiness.
And these are ordinary things, not spectacular things. These are the everyday battles. No to the second bowl of ice cream. No to turning on the screen.
Yes to the extra money for the Syrian refugees. Yes to an extra five minutes of prayer.
Imagine Jesus going home after the 40 days in the wilderness. Imagine Jesus just walking home. Back to the dishes in the sink. The bills to pay. He could have been holding up a trophy, confetti raining down on him, everyone cheering. But he just goes back to reality, and no one knows who he is or what he can do.
This is the greatest heroism. This is our model this Lent.
To believe in Jesus Christ is to believe that God became a person, and to believe that God became a person is to believe that God became ordinary, God became boring, and to believe that God became boring is to believe that we have to be boring, too. And then everything reverses, everything gets turned upside down. In these gray and muddy times we are being taught that we are powerless, that we can’t force the spring to come, that we are dependent on the grace of God. But then: the sun does come out. Spring does happen.
To believe in Jesus Christ is to believe that God became a person, and to believe that God became a person is to believe that God became ordinary, God became boring, and to believe that God became boring is to believe that we have to be boring, too.
The other day in the woods I heard someone crying Angel! Angel! It was a woman calling for her dog. And I’d just seen it: a squat white cattle dog, with one ear hanging down and his tongue hanging out. Walking along the trail. Just as happy as could be.
A few weeks ago it had been raining so much the seasonal stream behind our house started flowing like a river. When I went outside I could hear it almost roaring.
A new river, in my own backyard.
I don’t think it’s an accident that the Transfiguration occurs after the Temptation, when Jesus turns down the chance to be spectacular, or right after the talk he gives the disciples about his coming death: how he is not the kind of messiah they expected, but the one who will be crucified, who will fail—and how we have to be like him, we have to die too.
Jesus is transfigured because he doesn’t try to be. The light shines on him because he lets it—because he so empties himself out he has become entirely transparent, entirely a vessel.
You remember the movie with Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s? It was based on a book by Truman Capote. The other day I saw a cartoon with the caption, “Breakfast at Epiphany’s”—epiphany, the Greek word for the manifestation of the divine.
Above this there are people sitting at a restaurant and one is saying, wow, these eggs are amazing! and another, it’s a caffeine miracle! and a third, now I understand hash browns!
But it’s not a joke. Sometimes this happens. Not a stone becoming bread but bread becoming bread and us becoming aware of the bread, of the miracle of the bread, of the presence of the bread, how delicious it is, and soft and warm and good.
Or there’s a lovely little 17th century book by a kitchen hand and errand boy at a French monastery, Brother Lawrence. It’s called The Practice of the Presence of God, and it begins with this story, as told to another monk, about Brother Lawrence’s conversion:
That in the winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear, he received a high view of the providence and power of God, which has never since been effaced from his soul.
Not a burning bush, an ordinary tree: a bare tree, with bare branches, like now. But a miracle, if we know how to see, if for a moment we are given the gift of seeing.
“Lord of all pots and pans and things,” Brother Lawrence prays, “make me a saint by getting meals and washing up the plates!” Not rocks become bread, not even bread become bread. The pots and the pans become sacramental, the washing up the sacrifice.
Or a friend of mine is a teacher, of little kids, and the kids are really acting up lately, really hard to control. She had to come down hard on one kid in particular, several days in row. But then this boy came back to school after being sick, and he returned a book my friend had loaned him, and on the book was a little sticky note, with a note the boy had written, in his own shaky printing: thank you for helping me. I love you.
Lord of all sticky notes, Lord of all teachers, Lord of all little boys, make us saints by living our lives day to day. Lord of all ordinariness, Lord of all miracle, transform us, transfigure us, make us your own!
O Lord, thank you for helping us! We love you!