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Commentary to the SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT – YEAR A

Fernando Armellini - Sat, Mar 4th 2023



The Lord has chosen you—Moses says to Israel—from among all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his very own people” (Deut 14:2). “It was on your fathers that the Lord set his heart. He loved them and after them, he chose their descendants—you—preferring you to all the peoples” (Deut 10:15-16).

Even Christians are “a chosen people” (1 P 2:9). “We remember brothers and sisters, the circumstances of your being called” declares Paul to the Thessalonians (1 Thes 1:4). “Truly I realize that God—as Peter says—does not show partiality” (Acts 10:34), so what is the point of talking about the election?

The choices of God do not follow human criteria. They do not presuppose merit but are dictated by gratuitous love. God is linked to Israel, not because it was the most numerous in people—it was indeed the smallest—but simply for love (Deut 7:5-8). To the Christians of his community, James recalls the behavior of God: “God did not choose the poor of this world to receive the riches of faith and to inherit the kingdom” (Jas 2:5).

When God calls a person or chooses a people, He entrusts them with a mission to make them carriers of his blessings intended for all. So Abraham has to become “a blessing to all the families of the earth.” Israel, the servant of the Lord, is charged to “bring justice to the nations” (Is 42:1), and Paul is a “chosen instrument to carry the name of Christ before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel” (Acts 9:15).

The vocations of God do not confer any privilege. They do not offer any reason to feel superior or better than others. They are a request for availability to serve, to become mediators of salvation. 

  • To internalize the message, we repeat:“Let us understand, Lord, how great and challenging is the mission to which you have called us.”

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  • First ReadingGenesis 12:1-4

The Lord said to Abram: “Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.

“I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and curse thosewho curse you. All the communities of the earth shall find blessing in you.” Abram went as the Lord directed him.

There are almost two billion people in the world who consider Abraham their father in faith. The fate of this character—whose historical figure is hard to define because it is lost in the mist of time—is truly unique. Forthe Jews, Christians and Muslims, he is the symbol of the believer, the model of a man faithful to God. Hisname—which means ‘the father loves’ or ‘the father is exalted’—evokes perhaps the worship of God-Fatherworshiped by his ancestors in Mesopotamia, his native land.

He lived in Ur of the Chaldeans. “My father was a wandering Aramean”—Israel will forever remember in her profession of faith (Deut 26:5). The names of his family, the geographical framework, customs, legal practices, the type of religion, and the migration stories suggest chronologically placing him in the first half of the second millennium B.C.

At some point in his life, a radical change took place. He was forced to leave his land and his family and travel to an unknown country. We can try to reconstruct what happened historically.

Mesopotamia was richly fertile, watered by two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates. With Egypt, it was the region’s most prosperous and most advanced in the world. They had developed highly advanced agricultural techniques. There were superior schools, an efficient state organization, and profoundly wise laws. (It is enough to remember the famous Code of Hammurabi.) They had courts where justice was administered with fairness. It would have been a happy land if it had not often been invaded by semi-nomadic people who lived in the west, on the edge of the desert, or by people from the east who came down from the highlands. The upheavals that followed in these occupations caused movements of groups, clans, and tribes. The family of Abraham was probably involved in one of these forced migrations that took place at the beginning of the second millennium B.C.

How did Abraham experience this change in his life? The biblical text gives us a theological reading of the facts: Abraham captured God’s will in the events that involved him. He realized that the Lord was calling him to a great mission, and he gave his trusting assent. He saw what was happening (although painful, dramatic, and shocking) as a plan of the Lord. He trusted and let himself be guided by him.

The passage proposed today occupies a key place in the history of salvation. It marks the beginning of a new chapter for all of humanity. The first eleven chapters of Genesis present the story of the world's origin, man, sin, the flood, and the Tower of Babel. Then the sacred author focuses on an individual and his family. They will occupy the rest of the book.

Suddenly, without any premonitory warning, the Lord enters the scene. He directs a peremptory order at Abraham “Leave your country, your family and your father’s house, for the land I will show you” (v. 1). There is no mention of the time, place, circumstances, or state of mind the patriarch had experienced meeting God. It is an invitation to grasp the story of the arduous spiritual journey proposed to every believer in this call.

In the advice of a true friend, in an inner communication, during a spiritual retreat, while contemplating a sunset in solitude, God speaks in the happy or sad event that messes up plans and dreams. He perhaps invites to abandon the routine in which, more than living, one survives. He asks for detachment from the past, from habits that gave some gratification, though they do not render us honor. God does not accept that the human gives up and adapts to a false equilibrium. God intervenes and promises a new, diverse, authentic life and a challenging one accompanied by the unexpected. For this reason, there is no wonder that the memory and even the regret of land left behind remain for a long time.

The Lord does not immediately reveal to Abraham where he wants to lead him. He does not indicate the problematic stages he will go through because he would be afraid and discouraged. God behaves in the same way with every person. He calls him to conversion, and only gradually does he indicate the steps that must be taken. Moment by moment, day after day, God invites him to give his answer, to say his ‘yes’ to the Father who is guiding him.

The promises of God are at the center of the passage (vv. 2-3). He speaks nothing but a blessing from beginning to end. This term occurs five times, with only an incidentally mention of a curse. The blessing is extended to all the families of the earth. That it is all unconditional must be stressed. It is not related to human response; it does not depend on fidelity. God promises to implement good in a variety of ways.

In the context of the book of Genesis, this data is particularly significant because it is placed after man's sin. With a bold anthropomorphism, it was said that “the wickedness of man on the earth was great and that evil was always the only thought of his heart” (Gen 6:5-6) after the men at Babel dared to attempt to build a roadway to heaven.

Here is God’s answer to sin: not resignation, but the call of Abraham, the choice of one ‘elected’ (Ne 9:7), a faithful servant through whom he will start a new love story and convey a blessing to all humankind. Throughout the scene, Abraham remains silent. He does say a word, does not ask for an explanation, nor make any comment. He listens in silence.

The story ends with the laconic remark: “Then Abraham left as the Lord told him” (v. 4). Few words, but enough to express the complete adhesion of the patriarch to God’s plan and demonstrate his total confidence in him. It is the attitude of listening, obedience, conversion and availability to implement courageous ‘departures’ that the Lord expects, especially during Lent, from every believer.


Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:8b-10

Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.

He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before timebegan, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.


Timothy was still quite young when he decided to devote his life to the cause of the Gospel. He is good and enjoys the esteem of all but is also shy. When this letter is sent, he has already been the bishop of Ephesus for several years, one of the major cities of the Roman Empire. Things are going pretty badly for communities across the region. There are serious difficulties. The first persecutions are taking place. Many Christians waver in their faith and start to desert the community gatherings. They turn their gaze and interests towards the goods of this world.

In the passage taken from today’s reading, the author wants to encourage these sorely tried disciples. He reminds them that faithfulness to Christ involves substantial risks and also much suffering. God does not usually lead people along comfortable paths. The life of Abraham was not easy, so also the life of Christ, Paul, and Timothy. The lives of Christians will never be easy.

The second part of the reading (vv. 9-10) emphasizes that the Christian vocation is completely free of charge. People cannot do anything to deserve it because it is a pure gift. This truth should awaken feelings of gratitude to God and a speedy adhesion to his call.


Gospel: Matthew 17:1-9

Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzlingwhite, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them.

As they were coming down from the mountain, he charged them not to relate what they had seen to anyone, except when the Son of Man had risen from the dead.So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what rising from the dead meant.


This passage is sometimes interpreted as a brief preview of the experience of paradise, granted by Jesus to a group of friends to prepare them to endure the ordeal of his passion and death.

There is need for caution when approaching a gospel text because of what, at first glance, seems to be a chronicle of facts, while at a closer look, it often reveals a theology drawn up according to the canons of biblical language. The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus reported almost identically by Mark and Luke is an example.

Today, Matthew’s version is proposed to us. It opens with a seemingly irrelevant entry: “After six days.” After what? It is not said, but the reference seems to be the most likely debate about the identity of Jesus that occurred in the region of Caesarea Philippi (Mt 16:13-20). One even wonders why he takes with him only three disciples and why he goes up on a mountain.

Let’s start with this last detail. This is a curious fact, especially in Matthew’s Gospel. Jesus, when he does or says something important, goes up a mountain: The Last Temptation takes place on the Mount (Mt 4:8); the beatitudes are spoken on the Mount (Mt 5:1); he multiplied the loaves on the Mount (Mt 15:29) and, at the end of the Gospel, when the disciples encounter the risen Christ and are sent into the world, they were “on the mountain that had been indicated to them” (Mt 27:16).

Just scroll through the Old Testament to find out the reason for such insistence. The mountain, in the Bible—as indeed, among all peoples of antiquity—was the site of encounter with God. On the mountain, Moses received his manifestation of God and received the revelation that later was passed on to the people. It was also at the top of Horeb that Elijah met the Lord.

There’s more. If we read Exodus 24, we find that of Moses it was said, “after six days” (Ex 24:16), he did not go alone, but took Aaron, Nadab and Abihu with him (Ex 24:1,9), and was enveloped in a cloud. On the mountain, even his face was transfigured by the splendor of God’s glory (Ex 34:30).

In light of these texts, the aim of the evangelist is clear. He intends to present Jesus as the new Moses, who delivers the new law to the new people, represented by the three disciples. Jesus is the definitive revelation of God.

The shining face and bright robes (v. 2). These are also frequent occurrences in the Bible. The Lord is “covered with majesty and splendor, wrapped in light as with a garment,” says the Psalmist (Ps 104:1-2). They are images that affirm the presence of God in the person of Jesus.

The meaning of the luminous cloud that envelops all with its shadow is identical (v. 5). The book of Exodus speaks of a luminous cloud that protected the people of Israel in the desert (Exodus 13:21), a sign of God’s presence that accompanied his people along the way. When Moses received the law, the mountain was enveloped by a cloud (Ex 24:15-16). He also came down with a shining face (Ex 39:29-35). Cloud and shining face are, therefore, a reflection of God’s presence.

Using these images, Matthew says that Peter, James and John, in a particularly significant moment of their lives, have been introduced to the world of God and have enjoyed an enlightenment that gave them an understanding of the true identity of the Master and the destination of his journey. He would not be the glorious Messiah they expected, but a Messiah who, after a severe conflict with the religious power, would be opposed, persecuted, and killed. They also realized that their fate would be no different from that of the Master. The voice from heaven (v. 5) is a literary expression frequently used by the rabbis to end a lengthy discussion on a theme and present the thinking of God.

The topic discussed in the previous chapter (Mt 16) concerned the identity of Jesus. The Master himself had opened the debate with the question: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (Mt 16:13). After presenting the various opinions, the apostles, through the mouth of Peter, expressed their conviction that he is the long-awaited messiah. The voice from the sky now declares the thought of God: ‘Jesus is the beloved,’ the faithful servant of whom God is well pleased (Is 42:1).

This ‘voice’ that declares the same words had already been heard at baptism. “This is my beloved Son” (Mt 3:17). Now an exhortation is added: “Listen to him.” Listen to him, even when he seems to propose too demanding a path, indicate the narrow and steep way, paradoxical or humanly absurd choices.

In the Bible, the word ‘to listen’ does not just mean ‘to hear’ but is often equivalent to the verb ‘to obey’ (Ex 6:12; Mt 18:15-16). The Father's recommendation to Peter, James and John, and through them to all the disciples, is ‘to put into practice’ what Jesus teaches. It is the invitation to focus life on the proposal of the beatitude.

Who are Moses and Elijah? The first is the one who gave the Law to his people; the other is considered the first of the prophets. For the Israelites, these two characters represented the Holy Scriptures.

All the holy books of Israel are meant to lead to a dialogue with Jesus; they are oriented toward him. Without him, the Old Testament is incomprehensible, but also Jesus, without the Old Testament, remains a mystery. On Easter day, to make the meaning of his death and resurrection clear to his disciples, he will again resort to the Old Testament: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he explained to them everything in the Scriptures concerning himself” (Lk 24:27).

The meaning of the image of the three tents is not easy to determine. Indeed, they refer to the path of the exodus. Here, they indicate, perhaps, Peter's desire to stop and perpetuate the joy experienced in a moment of spiritual intimacy with the Master. Whoever builds a tent wants to fix his abode in one place and not move, at least for a time. Jesus, instead, is always on the move. He goes directly to a destination, and the disciples must follow him.

Our own spiritual experience can help us to understand. After having spoken at length with God, we are not willing to go back to everyday life: the problems, social conflicts, and family disagreements, the dramas we must confront frighten us, yet we know that listening to the Word of God is not everything. We cannot spend our lives in the church or the oasis of spiritual retreats. It is necessary to meet and serve the brothers and sisters, help those who suffer, and be close to anyone in need of love. After discovering how to go in prayer, we must throw ourselves into following Jesus, who goes up to Jerusalem to offer his life.

Let us summarize the scene's meaning: the whole Old Testament (Moses and Elijah) receives direction from Jesus. Peter does not understand the meaning of what is happening. Although in words he proclaims Jesus as “the Christ” (Mt 16:16), he remains profoundly convinced that he is just a great character, a man at the level of Moses and Elijah; for this, he suggests that three equal tents be built.

God intervenes to correct the false interpretation of Peter: Jesus is not just a great legislator or a mere prophet; he is the ‘beloved Son’ of the Father.

The three characters cannot continue to be together any longer. Jesus stands out clearly from the others and is absolutely superior. Israel had listened to the voice of the Lord, which Moses and the prophets had transmitted. Now this voice—Peter says—comes to people through Christ. It is he and him alone that the disciples should listen to. It is noted that, when the three look up, they see no others but Jesus. Moses and Elijah are gone; they have already accomplished their mission: they have presented the Messiah, the new prophet, the new lawgiver to the world.

The promise made to the people by Moses before his death is surprisingly realized: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself from among the people, from your brothers, to whom you shall listen” (Deut 18:15).


READ: The Transfiguration of Jesus is a theophany, a manifestation of the divine. For Jesus and the three disciples with him on the mountain, the experience is a mystical one.

REFLECT: Religious and mystical experiences frequently occur in life. Such experiences are beyond words. Give some thought to how the physical can express the spiritual.

PRAY: Prayer can be a mystical experience. Be open in your prayer to recognize the presence of the divine.

ACT: Look for the spiritual in everything. The Spirit is present in all that exists.

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