17 February 2008, Second Sunday of the Lent

Genesis 12:1-4;   2 Timothy 1:8-10;   Matthew 17:1-9

During the season of lent the church invites us to a state of conversion, or a change of heart so that we are ready to prepare ourselves for the paschal mystery, to celebrate the suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of our Lord. Lent is the time when we are invited to participate in a spirit of repentance.  In the early church the catechumens and public sinners were prepared to be accepted into the fold of the church. Hence the readings were arranged in such a way so as to prepare them towards purification and baptism. Each of the readings given has the sign of purification. In this context let us meditate on the Gospel of today.

In order to understand today’s Gospel we need to put it into context.  Peter had just, in the name of the other disciples, recognized their Teacher, Jesus, as the expected Messiah of Israel.  “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  It was a climactic moment in Jesus’ relationship with his disciples. But this was immediately followed by Jesus clearly telling them exactly what being Messiah was going to mean for him.  Far from being a mighty warrior-king who would crush all the enemies of God’s people, he was going to be a suffering messiah. This was too much for Peter and he objected strongly.  In turn, he was severely scolded for getting in the way of God’s way of doing things.  Even more, Jesus had said that, if anyone wanted to be his follower, then they would have to be prepared to walk the same road of rejection, oppression and even death. This was not easy and they seem to have been depressed. In this context we have today’s experience.

What was the exact purpose of His transfiguration, three reasons can be given. First of all, when God spoke from Heaven, as He had spoken during the Baptism of Jesus, the Sonship of Jesus was being revealed to those who were present. Secondly, when the face of Jesus shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white, the event may have testified to the fact that the Lord Jesus was the true Light which enlightens everyone.  Thirdly, the transfiguration may have foreshadowed the eternal reign of Jesus as God and King in Heaven. The Book of Revelation tells us, “And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light…” “God is light and in him there is no darkness at all.”

This happened “six days” after the declaration of Jesus as Messiah.  It is perhaps a reminder that it was after six days that God called Moses into the cloud of glory on Mount Sinai.  Jesus takes Peter, James and John to a high mountain.  As the disciples watched, Jesus was suddenly transformed.  “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzlingly white.”  Again it reminds one of the radiance on Moses’ face after he came down from the mountain where he had spoken face to face with God.

Then, suddenly, Moses and Elijah are seen talking with Jesus.  Their presence is very significant.  They represent the two great traditions of the Old Testament: Moses personified the Law of God’s people and Elijah the traditions of the great prophets. Their presence and their talking with Jesus indicate their total endorsement of all that Jesus is doing and also of all that he will experience in the days to come.  They spoke of his suffering and death to come.   Peter, then, with his usual impulsiveness, enthusiastically suggests building three tents or shrines for Jesus, Moses and Elijah so they could stay on the mountain. Tent is the place where God lives as he stayed when Israel was in the desert. Peter wants to be there in the glory permanently.  In the First Reading, Abram too is told to leave his country and his family home and go to where God will lead him.  God is telling us the same every day of our lives as he shows the path. Today’s Second Reading from the Second Letter of Timothy is a reminder that God calls each and every one of us. God wants us to become holy, reminding us that we have received our life and immortality through the Gospel.

Here in the transfiguration God reveals himself and his is heard through the cloud: “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”  These are the exact words spoken at the baptism of Jesus.  .”Listen to him.” This is directed at Peter and the others. To listen to Jesus is:  to hear what he says; to accept what he says; to make it one’s own, to identify with it fully. So far, the disciples have not been doing this.  They have been hearing but not accepting.  At the sound of God’s voice, the disciples prostrate themselves on the ground, terrified.  They hear the gentle voice of Jesus, “Get up (rise up) and do not be afraid.”  Jesus words point to resurrection to a new life and the abolition of fear and anxiety. They look up and see Jesus standing there alone; the Father is gone, Moses and Elijah are gone. From now on they will see “only” Jesus but, after this experience, they know that he is not alone, that he has the full backing of his Father and of the Jewish tradition of the Law and the Prophets.  They were told that the messiah is a suffering messiah and they have to listen to him.

They were learning that, if they wanted to be truly his followers, they must accept this fully and that they themselves must be ready to go the same way. Being on the mountain was a wonderful experience.  “It is good for us to be here,” said Peter.  But Jesus came down from the mountain to be with the people in their pains and sorrows, in their fears and anxieties, in their sicknesses and disabilities, in their sinfulness.

 

Anecdote Captain’s Prayer: There is a story of about a sea captain who in his retirement skippered a boat taking day-trippers to Shetland Islands. On one trip, the boat was full of young people. They laughed at the old captain when they saw him say a prayer before sailing out, because the day was fine and the sea was calm.  However they weren’t long at sea when a storm suddenly blew up and the boat began to pitch violently. The terrified passengers came to the captain and asked him to join them in prayer. But he replied, “I say my prayers when it’s calm. When it’s rough I attend to my ship.”

Here is a lesson for us…… If we cannot and will not seek God in quiet moments of our lives, we are not likely to find him when trouble strikes. We are more likely to panic. But if we have learnt to seek him and trust him in quiet moments, then most certainly we will find him when the going gets rough.

 

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