Second Sunday of Lent
Reading 1 GN 15:5-12, 17-18
Responsorial Psalm PS 27:1, 7-8, 8-9, 13-14.
- (1a) The Lord is my light and my salvation..
Reading 2 PHIL 3:17—4:1
Verse Before The Gospel CF. MT 17:5
Gospel LK 9:28B-36
Second Sunday of Lent—March 16 & 17, 2019
Every now and then we see someone whose face appears radiant. I remember seeing the bright glow in the face of my Aunt Evelyn when she was pregnant with one of her thirteen children! I see a glow in the faces of couples who are in love. I have seen that glow in the face of Mother Teresa and on other holy people. I have seen a brightness in the face and eyes of someone preparing to leave this life. When we understand what has caused that sort of feeling of love and genuine fulfillment to shine forth; we get a glimpse of their deepest desires and the essence of who they are. That is what the disciples saw happen to Jesus as he prayed on the mountain.
On January 13 we celebrated the Baptism of the Lord and reflected on the voice from heaven that identified Jesus with the words “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” Last week we heard about Jesus being tempted and how he handled his temptations. This week we hear about the Transfiguration of Jesus. There is a voice from the cloud that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” I suspect that the disciples did listen to Jesus but they may not have wanted to hear all that Jesus was saying. Just six verses earlier Luke writes that Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised.” I wonder if they had any idea of what Jesus meant by being raised on the third day. I believe the experience of the Transfiguration of Jesus was a real help to the faith of the disciples when bad things were happening to Jesus. They would be able to remember that Jesus was much more than who he appeared to be.
Although we are not given their words, Luke tells us that Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about his upcoming exodus—the suffering and death he knew he was facing and God’s promised, unimaginable third day. The disciples probably understood this no more than they had understood his prediction about his coming passion.
The presence of Elijah and Moses indicates Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophets (Elijah) and the law (Moses). Only the three disciples are there to witness the terrific encounter, and they, too, are enveloped in the cloud, which itself is another image from the Old Testament. In particular, during the wandering in the wilderness, the Lord preceded the Hebrew people by means of a column of cloud during the day, and a column of fire at night. (Exod 13:21) Our rock tabernacle column is a reminder of God’s presence in the column of cloud and column of fire.
There are many instances in the Old Testament where the presence of the Lord is indicated by a cloud, and that is the sense intended here by Luke as well. The cloud represents the Lord’s glory. The face of Jesus changing in appearance and his clothing becoming “dazzling white” are both symbolic and representative of Jesus’ glory.
If the transfiguration requires anything of our discipleship, it is to let go of our masks and let others catch a glimpse of God in us. Jesus’ own transformation was a proclamation of the Gospel; it confirmed the faith of the disciples who joined him. Likewise, as Lent continues, Christians undertake practices that help others see God at work and help themselves catch sight of those sometimes fleeting moments when God reveals the divine face in another.
It is a safe bet that Peter, James and John never forgot their experience on the mountaintop; and the memory of it no doubt proved helpful when they later encountered the Risen Christ. Only then could they understand that “he will change our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself” (Phil 3:21).
Peak experiences do not come often and they do not last. But they can become a touchstone, a marker to which we may return mentally and spiritually at various points in our lives. The birth of a child, falling in love, a special day, or an encounter in nature may all be peak experiences we want to preserve, remember, and cherish. Perhaps like Peter we want to “build a tent,” to stay in the experience or to make it a memorial. But like the events in today’s gospel, as soon as the incident happens it seems to end. “After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.” The encounter was over and those who had witnessed it were humbled into silence. The encounter of the transfiguration gives us a way to think about our own peak experiences. They are a taste of the life that is to come, an eternal peak experience that satisfies all longings.