At a recent meeting I was asked why I came to Scotland. Because such a question has been cropping up many times on many an occasion, I had my points ready to present. But – to be absolutely honest – every time I struggle a bit, because all the reasons I give – all true – are rather the results than the causes of my stay in Scotland. You see, I’d never been to Scotland before, my knowledge about this country was limited to a few stereotypes and a couple of films – hardly a solid basis upon which to make such an important decision. The most genuine answer I could give is at the same time the most nebulous to many people: I believe God sent me here.
‘Leave your country, your family and your father’s house, for the land I will show you’ – in these words God calls Abram to hit the road heading off into the unknown. This is a simple line; but the challenge behind it is anything but. Following this call guarantees no certainty in the future, no security in the present and severs all connection with the past. Taking up this challenge would expose Abram to unforeseen complications and dangers, offering in return uncertainty and instability. Abram is a wealthy man – in this adventure there’s a lot to lose and little to gain. The only argument in favour of picking up the gauntlet is a promise made by God: ‘I will make you a great nation; I will bless you and make your name […] famous.’
Fame and glory – these two ‘qualities’ are primary alongside those driving our modern culture. Tabloids, junk TV shows and gossip websites are invariably among the most popular sources of information about lives of the rich and famous. For many it’s a substitute for glory, a way of basking in someone else’s good fortune. It’s delusional and sometimes dangerous, either stirring up someone’s unrealistic expectations or depreciating their own quality of life. In the gospel the Apostles chased their own dreams of power, influence and fame, and perceived Jesus as the one to guarantee these. They clung to their delusion despite being told many times that they were wrong. In today’s gospel three of them – Peter, James and John – are given the chance to have their expectations fulfilled, watching Jesus in a spectacular vision and talking to the most influential figures of the Jewish past. They are so happy that they want to put up tents to keep that moment of glory lasting forever. But they misunderstand the vision. It’s not about fame and glory here and now – it’s a glimpse of heaven, a glimpse of God’s promise fulfilled. For here and now is this message about Jesus: ‘This is my Son. […] Listen to him.’ In the Bible this verb isn’t just about paying attention to the voice; it also means acceptance and obedience to the voice. Whatever happens, whatever you experience, however great your doubts may be: listen to him and follow him. The Apostles’ trust and obedience were tested to the limit when they saw their own dreams, expectations and wishes flogged, crucified and finally buried in the tomb on the day of Jesus’ death. On that day they were victims of their own miscalculation, misinterpretation and misunderstanding because they hadn’t paid attention to Jesus’ message.
Today we are called like Abram to leave our country. Not necessarily in the geographical or political sense. Lent is a time to revise our lives, secured with self-made safety nets methodically knotted over the years; Lent is a time to challenge our self-delusional expectations and to correct our miscalculations. But first and foremost Lent is a time of re-discovering that the promise of heaven has not expired, and that the promise is still given to each one of us to keep us going through the valley of darkness towards its fulfilment in the Father’s house.