Without Christ, God is Too Bright and Too Distant

February 24, 2013: 2nd Sunday of Lent

Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
Psalms 27:1, 7-9, 13-14
Philippians 3:17–4:1
Luke 9:28-36
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We all know that happiness depends on living in a close relationship with God, as Adam and Eve did before the fall. It’s the most basic truth of our catechism: separated from God, the human heart withers, like a plant that never gets sunshine. Nevertheless, after the loss of grace through original sin, staying close to God became impossible. He is too bright for graceless, sin-damaged eyes to see; He is too far away for sin-weakened souls to find. If it were not for Christ, who shades that brightness and crosses that distance, every human soul would live in hopeless frustration, unable to embrace the only person who can make us truly happy: God.

The symbolism of today’s readings reminds us of this dilemma.

In the First Reading, God seals His promise of salvation by making a covenant with Abram. The ceremony for making covenants shows how sacred such agreements were. It involved having the parties making the covenant walk between the severed halves of sacrificial animals. This was a symbolic way of saying: if I do not fulfill my part of the agreement, may I end up like these severed animals.

God makes the covenant, which shows that He wants to be close to us, but in fact, He was still distant. This is symbolized by the smoking pot and burning torch that God used to represent His walking through the sacrificial animals. The smoke of the cooking pot symbolizes God’s mystery — you can’t see through smoke; likewise, we can’t see God clearly. The fire symbolizes His brightness and spiritual purity, too painful to look at directly, hot enough to incinerate anyone who comes too close.

The two symbols appear again in Jesus’ transfiguration up on the mountaintop. Here He is preparing to establish the New and everlasting Covenant. This time the brightness shines out of Jesus himself, and the mysterious cloud covers Him. The message is clear: in Christ, the distant, mysterious God of the Old Covenant has come to walk by our side.

In Christ, the age of frustration has ended. Friendship and closeness with God are once again made possible. God is no longer too bright and too distant; He is our close companion.

God could have overpowered us into believing Him and obeying Him. However, He didn’t. He sent us Jesus Christ instead. He translates His glory into human terms. He doesn’t want us to be His slaves; He wants us to be His friends, because He knows that His friendship is what we most need.

Do you remember the story of Helen Keller? While she was just an infant, she barely survived a severe fever that left her blind and deaf. For the next six years, she became more and more frustrated and violent. Her relatives tried to convince her parents to send her off to an institution. No one could communicate with her, and so no one could understand her. She was stuck inside the prison of self-centered emotions and urges. Her parents searched for solutions. Eventually, they hired a young woman, Annie Sullivan, to live with the family and become Helen’s teacher. She started spelling words into the palm of Helen’s hand with finger motions. She started trying to tame Helen’s temper. When Helen only seemed to get worse, Annie didn’t give up. She spent all her waking hours with Helen. She patiently continued to spell words, to get to know Helen, to try to understand her, to win her trust.

Her patience paid off. It happened at a water pump. With the cool water from the pump flowing over Helen’s right hand, Annie spelled the word “water” into the child’s left hand. Suddenly, Helen understood, as when a child first learns to read. Annie had opened Helen’s mind to the world around her. Helen began to ask Annie to spell other words while she touched other objects. Within the next hour, Helen Keller had learned 30 words: she was freed from her prison of self-centered darkness; she had entered the world of light.

God used the same strategy with us. Sin had darkened our souls, made us deaf and blind to God’s truth, to the truth about the meaning of life.

However, God did not give up on us. He sent us His Son, Jesus Christ, to be our teacher, to translate God’s friendship into human language, to spell it into the palms of our hands, word by word.

He is the one who comes to free us from the spiritual frustration and the prison of sin. He is our Savior; our miracle worker.

What should our response be to this marvelous presence of God in Christ? We should do what God the Father said to do: we should listen to Jesus.

We have to ask ourselves, do we listen to Jesus? We all hear Him. We hear Him speak in the Scriptures, in the liturgy, in the teachings of the Church, in our conscience — but do we really listen to Him? When we have to make decisions, do we think about what He would do? When we feel tempted to lie, cheat, self-indulge, gossip, or steal, do we first ask Christ what He would have us do? Are we striving to discover His will, how He would have us live out our relationships, our work, and our responsibilities?

We all know how frustrating it is when we try to communicate with someone who is not a good listener. Are we good listeners to Christ? Or are we frustrating Him?

How can we listen better this Lent to everything God wants to say to us? If we want to listen better, it’s easy. It could be as simple as taking some time during these weeks to read a good book on Christ. It could be as simple as taking a few more minutes each day to pray, or taking some time to learn how to pray better.

Or maybe it’s even simpler. Maybe you have already been hearing Christ’s voice loud and clear nudging you in your conscience to do something or to stop doing something. Why not stop just hearing Christ’s voice and start listening to it?

In this Mass, Jesus will come to be close to us again, to bridge the distance between us and God, just as He did with Peter, James, and John on the mountaintop. Let’s listen to Him, and promise to keep on listening, every day.

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