Second Sunday of Lent February 28, 2010

Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28b-36

As we enter the Second Week of Lent, we are called to continue to examine our hearts and to repent in order to prepare ourselves for the glorious Resurrection of Christ. The readings of today invite us to reflect on the paradox of our Christian faith that we belong here and we do not belong here. 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 more permanent dwelling place, a place of total union with our God of Truth and Love. That is the goal of living and we need to keep it constantly before our eyes.  Whatever we do on earth has its consequence in our life to come. While we are expected to be fully involved in our life here contributing to the fulfilment of the Kingdom, we are reminded that our final citizenship is in Heaven. In this process, while discovering the merits that we have freely received by the grace of God through Jesus Christ, our hearts are impelled to show appreciation to the Heavenly Father in thanksgiving. In this context the First and the Gospel Readings of today speak of striking interventions by God in people’s lives and the second reading tells us of our heavenly citizenship.

The First Reading of today marks a significant stage in Abraham’s journey of faith. Though still struggling with doubt Abraham is led to make sufficient progress to put his faith in the Lord.  He had been asked to leave his homeland and to go and live in a strange place. If he did so, he was promised a great future for his family and descendants. Without any further guarantees, Abram sets out. His readiness to put his trust in God’s word became legendary in the tradition of Israel and is echoed again in the New Testament. “Abram put his faith in the Lord, who counted this as making him justified,” that is, putting him right with God. At this time Abraham had no children and he expresses this to the Lord. But, although ready to do what God asked of him, Abraham asked for some confirmation. God had assured him of a great dynasty where his followers would be as numerous as the stars of heaven. Now God tells him to make an offering of some animals and to cut the animals in half, putting one half on each side. At sunset, as Abram fell into a deep sleep and as the sun set and darkness came on, a blazing furnace and a firebrand indicating God’s presence came between the divided offerings. From this experience Abram knew his trust in God was justified.

During today’s Second Reading from the Letter to the Philippians, we heard St. Paul telling us that our citizenship is in Heaven, that is, the goal and destination of our life is to be one with God. There is no other goal. And from heaven i.e. from God comes the Saviour we are waiting for, the Lord Jesus Christ, and he will transfigure these wretched bodies of ours into copies of his glorious body. He will do that by the same power with which he can subdue the whole universe. At the same time we do not belong to this world because Christ died for us so that we may be made righteous through Him. Through His death on the Cross as the sacrificial Lamb, we qualify to inherit the salvation that awaits all those who persevere in their living faith.  Since Christ died for us, we are indebted to Him for the gifts of righteousness, salvation and eternal life in the Kingdom of God. We are indebted to Christ for what awaits us after the last trumpet. At that moment, in the twinkle of an eye, we will all be changed in the image of Christ. Eventually Jesus will come to save us and will transform our lowly bodies like his own glorious body.

In today’s Gospel Reading, we heard that Jesus went up the mountain to pray with three Apostles, Peter, John and James. Luke here gives the story of the Transfiguration, a story that can be found also in Mark and Matthew. It is important to be aware of where it comes in the Gospel account.  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, the Saviour King expected by Israel. But almost immediately afterwards, they are brought back the reality of life. 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. He will be arrested, tried, tortured and eventually executed. 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. Peter does react strongly to this.

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”. We do not know which mountain but, in general, mountains in Scripture are holy places, places where God is especially felt to be present.  While they were on the mountain, the appearance of the face of Jesus changed and His clothing became dazzling white. Then, Moses and Elijah appeared and started talking to Jesus.  As we heard, that event did not pass unnoticed. Peter and the other two disciples witnessed the glory of the Lord Jesus. Here Peter, James and John have an experience of Jesus totally transformed in his appearance. The light of God shines through him.  They witnessed, as far as it is humanly possible to see with the human eyes, the brilliance that comes with the transforming glory that awaits those who will be changed in the image of Jesus Christ.

Suddenly he was accompanied by Moses and Elijah; two pillars of the Hebrew Testament, representing the Law and the Prophets, the whole Jewish tradition. Luke says they spoke with Jesus of his coming experiences in Jerusalem. What is obviously implied is that Moses and Elijah fully recognised what would happen to Jesus as totally in conformity with the tradition they represented.  The disciples, however, do still not fully understand what is happening; they were “heavy with sleep” but just managed to keep awake. As Moses and Elijah seemed to go away, Peter – impetuous as ever – 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. Clearly, this indicates that they were in totally a new atmosphere. Their vision had made them aware of the new reality of God. Tent in the Old Testament is identified with the presence of God.

Then there was the cloud around them. The cloud in the Biblical sense symbolises the presence of God, and this cloud covered them with a shadow and “the disciples were afraid”. This was not indeed very realistic. They recognised the cloud immediately as the close presence of God himself. Then they heard God speak from the cloud: “This is my Son, the Chosen One. Listen to him.”  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. If they could not understand and accept those words, they would not know the real Jesus.  To be his disciples they had to listen to him intently. As Jesus will tell them later, “A grain of wheat remains no more than a single grain unless it is dropped into the ground and dies.” The suffering and death of Jesus are the seeds of new life for all of us. 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 and to understand about the Person and the Way of Jesus. What they needed was the gift of faith and total trust in Jesus and in God.

At the Baptism the disciples were told to listen to Jesus. God had communicated that he was his beloved son the chosen one. Again they are asked to listen to him. He speaks to us continuously and we have to be open to listen to him.  He speaks to us through his Word, through persons, through situations, our work, our joys and sufferings. Listening is an art. Often our conversations can turn into monologues if we are not attentive to the other. Jesus calls us to be attentive and listen to him, the words of eternal Life.

The entire episode of the Transfiguration is intended to clarify the divine identity of Jesus. He is the Messiah, the God’s chosen one, and who should be listened to. This is made clear from the voice that emerges from the cloud. Secondly, the transfiguration foreshadows Jesus’ exaltation to heaven as recounted by Luke. Finally, the transfiguration story continues teaching the disciples of Jesus about the deeper mystery of who he is and what he is about. However, Luke does not want his audience to miss the general context of the transfiguration event. It takes place within the context of prayer. The motive of Jesus to withdraw to a mountain with the disciples was not to be transfigured but to pray.  It is within this prayer context that extra ordinary things begin to happen as suddenly the appearance of the face of Jesus changes, his clothes become dazzling white, and Moses and Elijah appear to him in conversation.  It is also within this same context that the voice from the cloud is heard. This is how Luke tells us today that within the context of prayer that God’s presence is felt.

The transfiguration mystery of Jesus defies all explanation. It is what we generally term it a mystery. It is an encounter with the divine that is briefly experienced in the context of prayer. The transformation or transfiguration of Jesus that the disciples experienced was not simply something they were to see and experience as happening to him alone. It was also an invitation for them to undergo a transformation and transfiguration of their own. By listening to Jesus, listening to all that he invites us to be and to do, however much it may seem to go against the conventions we were brought up on. It means especially listening to those words of Jesus; It means having a total trust in walking his Way;  it means a total trust that only his Way brings us into full union with God, the source of all Truth, Love, Happiness and Peace.

Fr Eugene Lobo SJ, Rome

2 Responses to “Second Sunday of Lent February 28, 2010”

  1. Henry Aguwa Says:

    Hello Fr, the homily is excellent, very theological and faith inspiring. i so much enjoyed it. Thanks for it. i got great ideas from it.

    Fr Henry

  2. Chris Mathew Says:

    Your blogs are very interesting to hear. Thank you for making the blogroll.

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