2nd SUNDAY OF LENT 2013
It is in this world and through this world that we are to find our God. Yet, this is not our permanent home; we are pilgrims on a journey to a place of total union with our God of Truth and Love. It is so easy to get consumed with things on the way: our career, our financial security, the education of our children, the house we want in some desirable area... But life is like watching a movie. One cannot cry out: "Stop! I want to stay in this scene!" No, the movie goes on. And life goes on. And it is important to know where it is headed.
Luke today gives the story of the Transfiguration. Just before this, Peter, in the name of his fellow-disciples, had made the dramatic acknowledgement that Jesus, their teacher, was the Messiah, the Christ, expected by Israel. It must have been an awesome moment for them all to realize that they should be privileged to be his chosen companions. One can imagine how they began to have visions of power and glory because of this relationship.
But almost immediately afterwards, they are brought very rudely down to earth. Jesus begins to instruct them about what it will mean to be companions of the Messiah. There will be no great palaces, there will be no prestigious offices. On the contrary, things will from that very moment seem to go very wrong. The Messiah, their Jesus, will become a hunted figure, hunted not by foreigners but by the rulers of his own people.
The Transfiguration teaches us is that if we are to share in Christ’s glory then we also have to share in his suffering. And suddenly we realize why this particular text is given to us in Lent.
This was not the expected scenario for the Messiah's appearance on the world's stage and it quite clearly left the disciples in a state of shock and total incomprehension. It just did not make sense and Peter, surely reflecting the feelings of his companions, objected strongly. In return, Christ reprimands him. "Get behind me, Satan!" Peter becomes the tempter for Christ to once again to deny his humanity.
It is in this context that the scene in today's Gospel takes place. Three of Jesus' most intimate disciples are brought to "the mountain". Here Peter, James and John have an experience of Jesus totally transformed in his appearance. The light of God shines through him.
When a sacred author refers to scripture, he or she simply calls it “The Law and the Prophets,” based on the way Jews traditionally divide their scriptures into those two categories. So by having Jesus converse with Moses, the lawgiver, and Elijah, the prophet, Luke is telling his readers that Jesus is the climax to which the scriptures point.
What’s the subject matter of their conversation? “The exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” We immediately see the connection with Moses and how Jesus is the New Moses. Just as the ancient Israelites had been freed from slavery by going on the original Exodus, so Jesus’ disciples will be freed from whatever enslaves them by accompanying him to Jerusalem, by joining in his dying and rising.
Exodus literally means ‘a road out’ and is generally understood to mean death.
The disciples, however, are still not fully understanding what is happening.
Peter blurted out: "Master, it is wonderful for us to be here! So let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah." The Gospel comments that Peter did not know what he was saying. They recognized the cloud immediately as the close presence of God. And they heard God speak from the cloud: "This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him." They are being told to remember the words Jesus just told them about the Messiah, who would be rejected, suffer and die shamefully. After the "voice" had spoken, they found themselves with Jesus alone, the same "ordinary" Jesus they always knew. But they kept silent. They had nothing to say but much still to learn about the Person and the Way of Jesus.
In the first reading the servant of God, Abram, an old nomadic man was invited to faith when his circumstances in life were very bleak. He had been promised a new land yet was in a desert, he is promised descendents as numerous as the stars yet he and his wife are old and sterile. God took him outside the tent and said to him, “Look up at the sky and count the stars, if you can. Just so,” he added, “shall your descendants be.” It seems an impossible promise. The very important point in this teaching is that we presume it was night and the problem for Abram was not that he could not see the stars but that they were too numerous to count. But no. It states clearly in scripture that it was in the middle of the day that God led him out. God is saying you know the stars are there but at this moment you cannot see. God calls him to believe in His word about other realities at present unseen. Abram put his faith in the LORD, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.
Abram, in the quiet of the desert, heard the voice of God with new clarity inviting him to a promised land. But this fuller life of milk and honey cannot be reached without the gift of faith. Faith, I said last week, demands that I live not from what I have experienced but from what I have been promised. That is why St. Paulsays the gentilescould become Christians without first converting to Judaism.
Paul taught that non-Jews who wanted to be followers of Jesus should not be obligated by past Jewish regulations. His proof for this radical assertion is the Genesis author’s statement: “Abram put his faith in Yahweh, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness.” Abraham lived hundreds of years before Moses received the law on Sinai. Righteousness for Abraham could only have come from trust and faith in Yahweh, something gentile converts were also able to emrace even if they didn’t follow the laws. The “enemies of the cross of Christ” to whom Paul refers seem to be Christians who — after their conversion — returned to keeping the 613 Mosaic laws. Circumcision and dietary regulations have replaced their dedication to and trust in Jesus.
The transfiguration is a passing glimpse of the final end of Jesus’ human life. God is saying to Jesus and the disciples, today you experience my powerful presence. Remember that I am with you in the darkness to come when you do not see me.
Faith, as I said last week, demands that I live not from what I have experienced but from what I have been promised.