Sunday, March 16, 2014
Second Sunday of Lent
Matthew 17:1-9 (New American Bible, Revised Edition)
1 After six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.2 And he was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light.3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him.4Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”6 When the disciples heard this, they fell prostrate and were very much afraid.7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and do not be afraid.”8And when the disciples raised their eyes, they saw no one else but Jesus alone.
9 As they were coming down from the mountain, Jesus charged them, “Do not tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
“After six days…” Although the lectionary has omitted these three words, the passage of the Gospel we read today begins with that curious reference to “six days.” We might ask, six days after what? If we look back to the previous section in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 16 is a series of contrasting sayings. Jesus asks the disciples what the people think of him (16:13-14). After some different opinions, he addresses the same question to the disciples, because he wants to know what they personally believe. Peter’s solemn statement, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,” is accepted and “rewarded” by Jesus with a special blessing and promise (16:15-20). After that, Jesus announces what kind of Messiah he is going to be. He tells his disciples how he will be delivered to Israel’s religious authorities, suffer an ignominious death and be raised from the dead. His words shock Peter and the other disciples, as they cannot accept the idea of Jesus suffering in the manner he has announced. Nor do they seem to understand the conditions of discipleship: “’Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself,’ take up his cross, and follow me” (16:24). All that is precisely what happened “six days” before today’s Gospel. Jesus is quite conscious of the fact that he cannot expect the disciples to easily accept the dire contradiction of his death. Surely the disciples were asking themselves: “What kind of Messiah are we following? What kind of future are we going to face?” In fact, they do not seem to have understood or even heard Jesus’ last phrase: “on the third day be raised” (16:21). The truth is, they did not know anything about the voice from heaven during his baptism: “This is my beloved Son…” (Matthew 3:17). It is obvious that fear, discouragement and doubt are among the feelings that make them suspect they are on the wrong path, following a successful preacher and prophet (at least, at first sight), but whose project is doomed to failure and death. This is, then, the right moment to take aside his three closest disciples (the three whom he will choose to be with him in Gethsemane just before being arrested), and provide them with a hint of the glory he is called to share with the two most important figures in Israel’s history: Moses, the man chosen to make the Covenant between Yahweh and his people; and Elijah, the greatest prophet, taken to heaven and bound to announce the appearance of the Messiah. Their presence, their conversation with Jesus, and his “transfiguration” into a shining image of the Son of Man overwhelm and confound the disciples. The words they hear not only ratify his condition as the “beloved Son,” but underline the attitude they must adopt: “Listen to him.” So profound and awesome must have been their experience that Jesus has to “touch” them, encourage them to dispel their fears and comfort them. What they have seen and heard is but a glimpse of the glory Jesus will share with the great men of old, and a foretaste of the project they are invited to join. The liturgy invites us, too, to fix our eyes on the celebration of Easter, which is the crowning of the Lenten period. According to Paul’s words, we are called to bear our “share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God” (2 Timothy 1:8b); or, as he will say later (2:12a), “if we persevere we shall also reign with him.”
When reading today’s Gospel, we can focus our attention on Jesus’ transfiguration considering that the aim of the evangelist is to encourage a Christian community undergoing the typical crisis of lacking hope and enthusiasm in their following of Christ. That is a legitimate approach. Fixing their eyes on the glorified Christ helped the disciples, the first community, and it can help us in our times of hardships when trying to follow the Gospel. But we could look even further and see that we, too, can be “transfigured” into the image of the Lord, that we are called to share in his own glory. On two other occasions we find the verb “to transfigure” applied to Christians in the New Testament. In both cases, it is Paul who speaks about the process through which the faithful are to be transformed. In Romans 12:2, Christians are invited to consider their own bodies as spiritual sacrifices to God. They are called to put aside the style of the world and be transformed by the renewal of their minds. The passage resounds with Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom: “metanoeîte,” convert yourselves, transform your mentality. In 2 Corinthians 3:7-18, Paul compares the Hebrews who looked at Moses’ face, shining with God’s glory, with us, Christians, who gaze upon Jesus’ face and are transformed into his own image. In the end, it is the same process of “conversion,” not only from our worldly, sinful ways to life in grace, but from a purely human condition to sharing in the Lord’s divine life. This Sunday, let us consider just a single question about our response to Jesus’ calling: do we look far enough, beyond the hardship of the Gospel, and fix our faithful look on the future of real life in Christ?
Pray for those who feel discouraged in their faithful following of their Christian vocation: that the glorified Lord may comfort them with the hope of sharing in his own glory. Pray for those who, like Peter, would like to remain in the isolated peace of contemplation: that they may understand that the Gospel is to be announced and lived in the battlefield of our everyday existence.
On the third Sunday of Easter we will celebrate Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Prayerfully and calmly read Psalm 23 and repeat with confidence verse 4: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…” Do not be afraid to tell Jesus the hardships we sometimes suffer as we try to follow him.
Reflections written by Rev. Fr. Mariano Perrón, Roman Catholic priest, Archdiocese of Madrid, Spain
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