SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT YEAR C
Gen 15:5-12, 17f. Phi 3:17-4:1 Lk 9:28-36, Faithfulness. From Death Valley to Glory Mountain; Encouragement; Constancy; Wake Up and See God’s Glory; Keep the Faith; Life as Pilgrimage; Living Promise and Hope. Much of life is based on the consolation of promise and hope. I wasted tonight looking at television, but I promise it won’t happen again. The weather seems more promising this year than last. I didn’t do well financially this year, but next year somehow I‘ll do better for my family. Many living in tension long for the expected day of release.
Jesus and three of his disciples went up onto a mountain (v. 28). No specific mountain can be singled out, but the fact that they went there to pray may indicate that it was as much a theological mountain as it was a physical one, a place where God reveals Himself. And while he was praying Jesus’ face changed in appearance and his clothes became dazzling white (v. 29).
In identical words as will be used at Jesus’ resurrection (24:4) and at his ascension (Acts 1:10), St Luke tells us that conversing with him were Moses and Elijah (v. 30) as the totality of the First Testament – Moses as the prime representative of the Law and Elijah of the Prophets – to indicate that the purpose of both the Law and the Prophets, to prepare for Christ, was now fulfilled.According to biblical and extra- biblical tradition, both men had been taken upon into heaven. Among the things they spoke of was Jesus’ “passage”. The word was “exodus”; it meant that for Jesus it will be through death that he will pass over to heavenly glory, as the angel of death had passed over the homes of the Hebrews in Egypt, as Israel had passed over from slavery into freedom, and as we pass over from penance to salvation.
Amid all the glory, Jesus was learning the extent to which his suffering would have to go to finish his work. Moses had never quite finished his work. He had worked hard – struggling with Pharaoh, with the complaining wilderness generation, and – mostly –with God. He had been to the top of a mountain to receive the tablets of the Law.He had got through the desert, to another mountain: that from which he could see the Promised Land off in the distance. But there God took him in death. Elijah hadn’t finished his work, either. He, too, had been to a mountain – just before God took him home in that low-swinging chariot. He had been on the mountain to pray, in great discouragement, thinking himself to be the last faithful person on earth. He’d worked and worked, this tireless prophet of God, and then God took him.
That could easily be a picture of the lives of many of us. We work and work, believing that soon the day will come when everything will fall into place – when I finish school, or get a job, or get married, or when the children are grown, or when loans are paid off. Often we never seem to finish, and then God takes us. But we may consider our lives as a long and difficult race, in which we can hand off the baton to another runner. Moses handed off to Joshua, and Elijah to Elisha. Today they were all making the last hand off – to Jesus.
The disciples Peter, James, and John saw his glory (v. 32). This wasn’t a transformation only on the surface, as with Moses when he came down from Sinai, who didn’t know that his face had become radiant (Ex 34:29). Jesus was resplendent with inner glory. He was beingrevealed – not only as a lawgiver or prophet, but as the Son of God. Moses had been unaware, but Jesus was very much aware. The entire scene is charged with this awareness. It’s an awareness in which we can share if, unlike the Apostles, we stay alert. We miss a lot in life because our minds aren’t fully awake.
What often awakens is suffering. Many an actor or writers or opera singers are technically perfect, but do their jobs without feeling. They haven’t suffering enough. Paradoxically, they need a broken heart to make them whole. A teacher said of a beautiful young singer with a perfect voice, “She will be so much better when she has had to endure some of life’s sufferings!”
Peter, though not fully aware, was impressed. Unable to keep his thoughts to himself any more here than on many other occasions, he blurted out that it would be a good idea to set up three tents (v.33) for each of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles or Booths (Zec 14:16), the end of whose octave was now taking place. It recalled Israel’s forty years of wondering through the desert, when they lived in booths, or tents. It was the idea of life as impermanent pilgrimage, a Lantern theme.
In another reference to Israel’s exodus, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them (v. 35). No ordinary cloud, this was the shekinah, the cloud that signaled God’s presence. The voice of the Father from that cloud identified Jesus as His “Son”, His “chosen one” (v. 35). Equally important was the Father’s command, “Listen to him.” The Law and the Prophets have gone, and from now on people must listen to Jesus. His words and his example taught that life isn’t all laughter, nor is it all tears, but an interweaving of both. We aren’t to complain about either, as we need both for our wholeness.
When Jesus was alone (v. 36), contrasting with the thunderous awe-inspiring voice of God and the Apostles’ noise inner turmoil, there was a meaningful silence- a real, as opposed to an empty, silence. Even from Peter. In that stillness we, if not the Apostles, realize that at Jesus’ tomb, two others- angels-will appear in dazzling garments and will recall that the Messiah had to suffer so as to enter into his glory (24:26). Through all the twists and turns of his life, Jesus was faithful.
We see another example of the faithful person in today’s reading from the Book of Genesis. It’s a story of the early life of Abraham, who with his wife Sarai left Ur of the Chaldees in what is now southern Iraq for al land that God would show them (Gen12:1). He was still called by his original name Abram before his heroic plunge into the unknown for God’s sake changed it to Abraham. Abraham. Abram had become acceptable to God because he had trusted in the fulfillment of a promise by God that could not under ordinary circumstances be realized. (vv. 5f.).
But when God promised Abram the Promised Land, Abram asked for a sign (v. 8). This wasn’t contradiction of his absolute faith, and in answer God sealed a covenant with Abram through symbols that Abram saw in a sacred dream. It was the first solemn covenant in all of human history, and the beginning of what we call Salvation History. It was ritualized in a ceremony. Animals were slain and divided, leaving an intervening passage. Those who were party to the covenant passed through the divided animals, thus invoking the fate of dying in the same way if they didn’t live up to their obligations.
As at Jesus’ transfiguration, the symbols were signs of the awesomeness of the occasion – the setting sun, Abram’s deep sleep, terror, and darkness (v. 12). And, in a contrast in Genesis similar to that between noise and quiet at the transfiguration, into the darkness came God the Light, in the form of a smoking brazier and a flaming torch (v. 17). God is frequently symbolized by fiery figures. Biblical faith means that, like Abram and Sarai, we’re uprooted from a merely natural way of life and are sent by God on a journey beyond that.
St Paul, in today’s part of his letter to the Philippians, tells us how to achieve that biblical faith. He doesn’t hesitate to tell us to imitate him. (v.17), because he in turn is an imitator of Christ. He indicts many, however, who are so occupied with the part of Christ that includes glory that they elide over the cross (v.18). Those whom Paul meant as the enemies of the cross in his day have their counterparts today in all those who so lack faith that they deny the need of struggle, self-denial, penance, and mortification in life – and the need for Lent.
The detachment expected of the Christian doesn’t mean forbidding the love of beauty in all its manifestations. To the contrary, Christianity positively demands the enjoyment of beautiful things and a reverence for them for their own sake. But the perfection we see in them and the live we give them is relative to the infinite perfection we see in God and the absolute love we give Him. A scholar (Aldous Huxley) once remarked that when at the Reformation the puritan was substitute for the monk, the change was for the worse. The puritan practices a self destroying – asceticism, because he thinks of it not as a means to a more complete end, but as intrinsically right. The monk, on the other hand, practices self-perfecting asceticism for the attainment of a fuller completeness.
To help, Paul reminds us that our citizenship is in heaven (v. 20). Philippi, the Roman colony to which Paul was writing, was built, as were most Roman colonies, on important crossroads. For the Philippians, the privilege of being Roman citizens rather than subjects was as welcome as the thought of freedom for the imprisoned. As we suffer through our earthly pilgrimage, the thought that our citizenship is in heaven rather than here is equally welcome, and strengths our faith.
Our citizenship in heaven, while not encouraging us to forget the cause of justice in this world, entitles us to eagerly awaits Jesus’ Second formed into the glorious splendor of the transformed Christ. That is quite a promise. And, remembering all the limitations of our earthly bodies, Christ’s promise is very consoling.
God has affection for everyone who struggles along the pilgrim race of this life. Along the sidelines we hear voices – some from others, the worst from inside ourselves. The worst voices say, “You’re a fool.” But we also hear the voice which spoke to Jesus, saying, “You’re my child, the delight of my soul.” Our relationship with God is more than a mere covenant (as in today’s First Reading). It is even more than our being citizens of a heavenly country (as in our Second Reading). Our Relationship with God through our baptism is that we be transformed into the image of Christ. Let us pray that we who have been baptized, and those Elect now approaching baptism, will continue joyfully through our penances to rely on God’s promises.