13 March 2022 – 2nd Sunday of Lent, Year C
(1) Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18
The covenant with Abraham, basis of Israel’s religion of trust
He brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” And he believed the Lord; and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness. Then he said to him, “I am the Lord who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.” But he said, “O Lord God, how am I to know that I shall possess it?” He said to him, “Bring me a heifer three years old, a female goat three years old, a ram three years old, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” He brought him all these and cut them in two, laying each half over against the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. And when birds of prey came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away. As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram, and a deep and terrifying darkness descended upon him.
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates.
Responsorial: Psalm 26: 1, 7-9, 13-14
R./: The Lord is my light and my salvation
The Lord is my light and my help;
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
before whom shall I shrink? (R./)
O Lord, hear my voice when I call;
have mercy and answer.
Of you my heart has spoken:
‘Seek his face.’ (R./)
It is your face, O Lord, that I seek;
hide not your face.
Dismiss not your servant in anger;
you have been my help. (R./)
I am sure I shall see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.
Hope in him, hold firm and take heart.
Hope in the Lord! (R./)
(2) Philippians 3:17-4:1
Paul teaches the way of faithfulness
Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved.
Gospel: Luke 9:28-36
Peter, James and John glimpsed the hidden glory of Jesus
Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem.
Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” ” not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came an overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
Listen to Jesus only
The scene is traditionally considered as Jesus’ transfiguration. It’s not possible to reconstruct with certainty the experience that led to this surprising story: we only know that the Gospel writers give it great importance, since it is told as an experience that gives a glimpse of Jesus’ true identity.
At the beginning, it notes the transformation of his face, and though Moses and Elijah come to speak with him “representatives of the law and prophets respectively” only Jesus’ face remains transfigured and shining at the centre of the scene.
It seems that the disciples haven’t grasped the reality of what’s going on around them, since Peter says to Jesus: “Master, it is wonderful for us to be here; so let us make three booths, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”. He puts Jesus on the same plane and at the same level as the two great biblical figures. Each one is to have his booth. Jesus doesn’t yet occupy a central and absolute place in his heart.
God’s voice will correct him, revealing Jesus’ true identity: “This is my Son, the Chosen One”, the one who has his face transfigured. He mustn’t be confused with Moses or Elijah, whose faces are darkened. “Listen to him”. To no one else. His Word is the only decisive one. The rest should take us to him.
We need to recover in today’s Church the decisive importance of this Gospel story about Jesus as told in the bosom of the Christian communities from the beginning. These four writings constitute for Christians a uniquely basic source that we mustn’t equate with the rest of the biblical writings.
The Gospels aren’t teaching books that set out academic doctrines about Jesus. Nor are they biographies redacted to give detailed information about his historical trajectory. There is something that we can only encounter in them: the impact caused by Jesus on the first ones who felt themselves drawn by him and following him. They are “stories of conversion” that call for a change, for a following of Jesus and for an identification with his project.
That’s why they need to be listened to with an attitude of conversion. And it’s in that spirit that they should be read, preached, meditated on and kept in the heart of each believer and in every community. A Christian community that knows how to listen each Sunday to the Gospel story about Jesus in an attitude of conversion, that community begins to change. The Church doesn’t have any power for renewal more vigorous than that contained in these four small books.
Transformed by Prayer
For older Catholics, our experience of the Church has straddled two worlds, what things were like before and after the Second Vatican Council. We can rummage in the storehouse of our mind and compare things old and new. Can you remember how important private prayer was in that pre-Conciliar world, when people were more used to devotional practices than they are today. In the town where I grew up, called in to the church every day for a quick visit to the Blessed Sacrament. Of course, that was before television came and changed the shape of our evenings. Probably we weren’t any more virtuous than the people of today. Maybe we had nothing much to do in the evenings and we wanted to get out of the house and meet our friends.
All those habits of private prayer seemed to quickly disappear after the Council, though the modern means of entertainment had much to do with it. Change always demands its price, and even the liturgical changes after Vatican II somehow seemed to sideline private prayer. Here and there we can find signs of prayer making a comeback, as indeed it should. Inside each one of us is a need for prayer, trying to reach out to God. We feel that need to get away from distractions, to be alone for a while, to help make more sense of our lives. What else is that but an urge to pray.
Today’s gospel gives a remarkable insight into the nature of prayer. Jesus took with him Peter and John and James and went up the mountain to pray. We too have to find the high ground, remote enough to give us an overall view of our petty world with all its preoccupations. A mountain can give us that perspective, as indeed can a lake or a desert, places where Jesus also liked to pray.
Lent is a time for us to try and create a space for prayer somewhere in our lives. Only by prayer can we be transfigured and then try to transfigure our world. By reflecting deep inside ourselves we will transfigure our many and often complicated relationships. Prayer can transfigure our marriages, our homes, our work and our communities. The American writer, Thurber, at the end of one of his fables, penned this couplet: “All men should learn before they die,/Where they are going, from where and why.” Only in prayer will we find the answer to these questions.
Where we encounter God
The splendid vision in our Gospel today comes after Jesus had said that “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Lk 9:22). This was no good news to the disciples who expected Jesus, as the Messiah, to drive out the Roman army of occupation and restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). Many of them would have begun to have second thoughts: Is Jesus really the expected Messiah? So a few days after, Jesus invites the three leaders of his group, Peter, James and John, to go with him up a mountain, to show them another angle on reality.
For many, mountains are a place of encounter with God. Moses encountered God on a mountaintop, and so did Elijah, and it was a favourite place of prayer for Jesus too. It was where the eyes of the apostles, their spiritual eyes, were opened and they caught a glimpse of a Jesus that their physical eyes could never see. Then they saw that the heavens were on the side of Jesus, and they heard the voice of the invisible God, “This is my Son, my Chosen, listen to him” (Lk 9:35). This was all the confirmation they needed, that Jesus was indeed the expected one, for heaven itself bore witness. Now they would listen to him and follow him all the way to his suffering and death in Jerusalem. No matter what happens they are now sure of one thing: God is with Jesus; final victory will therefore be his.
How often we experience absurdities in life, leaving us filled with doubt and with the question: Where is God in all this? Think of people who have experienced abuse, deep-rooted individualism and insensitivity from church officials, and they ask, “How can God be in this place?” and many of them give up the faith. Others are traumatized by their experience of social injustice and discrimination. They apply for a job but see people less qualified than they get the job because of having the right connections or the right accent. They see forceful people advancing in society through unfair means and they ask: Where is God when this is going on? Or you may know someone undergoing personal and family crisis like terminal illness, breakdown of relationship between husband and wife, between parent and child, between friends.
At times like these we need to climb the mountain of prayer and ask God to open our eyes that we may see. When God grants us a glimpse of eternity then we realize that all our troubles in this life are short-lived. Then we have the courage to accept the suffering of this life, knowing that through it all God is on our side. All it takes is a glimpse of heaven to empower us to take up our daily crosses and follow Jesus, knowing that the cross of Lent is followed by the victory of Easter.
God on the mountain, God in the valley
Our lives are a mixture of a ‘mountain-top experience’ and a ‘valley experience.’ Jesus’ prediction of his suffering and death followed by the transfiguration experience reveals this truth in no unclear terms. You can see thorns in a bush full of roses or roses in a bush full of thorns, no matter how you look at it you can’t change the truth that both, thorns and roses are before you. Life’s journey is through thorns and roses, mountains and valleys.
In the verses preceding today’s passage, Jesus already predicted his passion, suffering and death (the valley experience). He spoke about carrying one’s cross as a pre-requisite for discipleship.
Interpreted in our own life-context, the mountain-top experience is that of peace, happiness, prosperity, fame, success, physical well-being, stable relationships and a general feeling of fulfilment and contentment. The valley experience is that when things don’t seem going right in our lives, when failures and loses befall us, when we are fallen and forsaken, misunderstood and betrayed by others, when relationships threaten to break, when ‘tomorrow’ scares us in the face, when loneliness stalks us, when grief overwhelms us and life seems at its edge.
When you know that suffering is going to come upon you, it is but natural that your face will look gloomy and pale and people can notice it. But here at the Transfiguration Jesus is looking radiant in glory (the mountain-top experience). This scene suggests that when we take up our cross in God’s name we receive strength and grace from the Lord to carry it. The voice of God “This my beloved son in whom I’m well pleased, listen to Him” is not just an endorsement of the Jesus-mission of redemption but an affirmation that God is always “well pleased” when we are willing to carry our cross and follow Him. When you are busy carrying your cross become also sure God is busy weaving a crown for you. Your crown is not somewhere beyond the grave, but in this life itself.
In our human experience, we are tempted just like Peter, James and John to desire the mountaintop experience and avoid the valley experience. But we really must live the valley experience if we want to see the glory of God in our lives. It is in the valley valley experience that we discover our frailties and the follies of our intelligence, when inflated egos are punctured and we discover our great need for God.
When we find it hard to trust God in the valley experience of your life, we could think of little chickens under the wings of a hen. There is darkness under its wings, the little chicks cannot see anything, yet they feel the warm, reassuring protection of their mother. As the Psalmist puts it, “The Lord will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings we will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and your rampart.” (Ps 91:4).
Whether in the valley or on the mountain-top, we need the affirmation of God, for the God in the valley is the same God on the mountains.