Fr. René J. Butler, M.S.
Provincial Superior, La Salette Missionaries of North America
(Click here for today’s readings)
All of us know people who have retired to Florida or Arizona or California, or even people from points south who have retired to New Hampshire or Vermont. But none of them moved because God told them to.
Here we have Abram—at the age of 75, by the way—being told, by the Lord, to do what was unthinkable in his world, to leave country and family behind and go he knew not where. This was nothing like retirement. It was starting all over again. But he did it, because God made him a promise. The trade-off was this: God would gain a people who would worship him exclusively, and Abraham, still childless at this point, would have more descendants than could ever be counted. God didn’t say it would be easy, and in fact it wasn’t easy for him or his descendants, down to this very day.
In Lent perhaps more than at other times we think of “doing something for God,” praying more, going to church more often, making a variety of sacrifices which, like the sacrifices of old, send up a pleasing odor to God. Why?
It’s not the guarantee of an easy existence. St. Paul encourages us to bear our “share of hardship for the Gospel.” That hasn’t changed, down to this very day. So, what’s the trade-off?
Now you will never find the word “trade-off” in the Bible or any liturgical prayer you will hear at Mass or elsewhere. It’s too inelegant, crass even. But we find the reality often enough.
The word used in the Liturgy is “exchange.” For example, there is this text in the Breviary for January 1st: “O marvelous exchange! The Creator of the human race, taking on a living body,... has bestowed on us his own divinity.” And we find the same reality without the word, at the offertory of every Mass, as water is added to the wine: “By the mystery of this water and wine, may we come to share in the divinity of Christ, who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”
At the Mass, then, we offer God bread and wine, and he offers us in return the Body and Blood of Christ. What about outside of the Liturgy?
Today’s Gospel helps us to understand this exchange. Not only did Peter, James and John get a glimpse of the glory that Jesus was destined for, but of the glory they were destined for as well.
St. Augustine in one of his sermons describes the exchange. He explains what the Son of God received from us by taking on our humanity, and what we received from him.
From us, he received a human body, that “flesh” which in the Scriptures is synonymous with weakness. From him, we received strength. From us, he received death; from him, we received life. He received insults, we received glory. And through the temptation he endured, he gave us victory.
There is of course an expectation on both sides of the bargain. He will guide and protect his own. We for our part need to put our trust in him, or as the voice from the cloud said: “Listen to him.” Like Peter and his companions, sometimes we do so with enthusiasm. “It is good that we are here.” And sometimes, as they were just moments later, we are “very much afraid.”
Today’s Gospel promises at least two things: the suffering and death of Jesus will not be the end; and, for his faithful disciples, suffering and death, inevitable as they are, will not be the end.
That’s a more than fair trade-off. That’s a “marvelous exchange”!