Year C: Second Sunday of Lent
Luke 9: 28b-36
About eight days after he said this, he took Peter, John, and James and went up the mountain to pray. While he was praying his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory and spoke of his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him.
As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. They fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.
- Can you name a specific “Mountain Top” experience (i.e. God sighting, or other religious experience) in your life and the illumination (grace or wisdom) that may have come afterward? How did it change you?
- As he did with Peter, James and John, Jesus is always pointing us “down the mountain” toward the realities of life and true discipleship. In what ways do you experience yourself listening to Jesus? What actions come from this?
- “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Jesus’ spiritual wisdom conflicts with our conventional understandings and preferred ways of behaving. What words of His do you find hard to listen to, and the most difficult to follow?
- Jesus often instructs the apostles not to tell anyone what they have seen, because they do not yet understand it’s meaning. Have you ever had a religious experience you kept silent until you had processed what it meant for you?
Margaret Nutting Ralph PHD
On the second Sunday of Lent, in all three liturgical cycles, we read the story or the transfiguration. The connection between this story and Lent may not be immediately apparent. Notice, however, that Luke tells us that Jesus, Moses, and Elijah were discussing Jesus’ “exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” This is a reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. The story of the transfiguration addresses a question that was very much on the mind of postresurrection followers of Jesus: Would God have allowed his only begotten Son to die an ignominious death on a cross, or did the fact that Jesus died on a cross mean that he was not God’s Son after all?
It is hard for us to realize just how scandalous Jesus’ death on the cross was. Crucifixion was the most shameful way to die. It was reserved for the worst of the worst. In addition, the law put a curse on anyone who died in the manner Jesus did. In Deuteronomy we read: “If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his corpse hung on a tree, it shall not remain on the tree overnight. You shall bury it the same day; otherwise, since God’s curse rests on him who hangs on a tree, you will defile the land which the Lord, your God, is giving you as an inheritance” (Deut 21:22-23). If Jesus were really God’s Son, would God have allowed such a shameful death to occur?
The story of the transfiguration responds to this question. First it makes clear that Jesus is God’s Son, and that Jesus is divine. Luke tells us that while Jesus was praying, “his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” Then we are told that the apostles “saw his glory.” To see Jesus’ glory is to see Jesus’ divinity. Finally, “a cloud came and cast a shadow over them [Peter, James, and John]…Then from the cloud came a voice that said, This is my chosen Son; listen to him.'” Jesus is definitely God’s divine Son. The crucifixion does not negate that fact.
In addition, the crucifixion, despite its appearance, was not a defeat. It certainly seemed like a defeat to the apostles at the time it occurred. However, in the story of the transfiguration Jesus is talking with Moses and Elijah about “his exodus that he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.” The word exodus is, of course, an allusion to God’s mighty intervention on Israel’s behalf when the Israelites escaped from slavery in Egypt. Jesus is not going to endure this exodus; he is going to “accomplish” it. What will Jesus accomplish in Jerusalem through his crucifixion? Jesus will accomplish his Father’s will: the salvation of the human race. Human beings will be freed from slavery to sin and death.
A second postresurrection question that the story of the transfiguration addresses is whether or not you must become Jewish in order to become a disciple of Jesus Christ. We know from reading the Acts of the Apostles that this was a much-debated question in the early years of the church. The question was answered definitively at the Council of Jerusalem (see Acts 15:5-29), where it was decided that a person would not have to obey all of the Jewish laws in order to become a follower of Christ.
This question is addressed in the story of the transfiguration through the presence of Moses and Elijah, the lawgiver, and the prophet, who are speaking with Jesus about his coming crucifixion. Peter wants to put up three tents. In other words, he wants Moses and Elijah, as well as Jesus, to dwell with them. A tent is the place where a person dwells. When Israel describes God’s presence in their midst, God is described as pitching his tent in Israel. In fact, the word tabernacle and the word tent both mean a dwelling place. Peter’s idea is not accepted. Luke tells us that “he did not know what he was saying.”
Moses and Elijah are not to tent, to remain with the people. When the voice from the cloud speaks it says, “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” In other words, the people are no longer to give Moses and Elijah, the law and the prophets, the same authority that they give Jesus. The apostles are to listen to Jesus. After the voice speaks Jesus is found alone.
After the transfiguration Luke tells us that the apostles “fell silent and did not at that time tell anyone what they had seen.” In Mark’s and Matthew’s accounts we are told that Jesus instructed Peter James, and John not to tell anyone until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead (Mark 9:10; Matt 17:9). Peter, James, and John do not tell anyone “At that time” about their experience because they do not yet understand it themselves. After the resurrection they will understand that this experience helped prepare them for the crucifixion. The church proclaims this story during Lent because it helps prepare us for the crucifixion too.
Behold What You Are, Become What You See
Fr. Michael K. Marsh
Most of us, I suspect, at some point each day, look in a mirror. We check our hair, our makeup, our teeth, our clothes. Mirrors show us what we look like. While it might be important to know what we look like, it’s more important to know who we are. That’s what this holy Feast of the Transfiguration is about. The Transfiguration of Christ shows us who we are. It reveals our origin, our purpose, and the end to which we must aim.
Mirrors show external appearances. The Transfiguration, however, shows the archetypal beauty within creation and humanity. This means that the Transfiguration is not just an event in history, a happening that begins and ends. It is, rather, a condition or a way of being. The Transfiguration reveals a present reality. The transfiguration is already within us and the world. The glorified and transfigured Christ is the prototype of our own creation.
Those are pretty bold statements when you consider recent events. Let us not forget the cloud that overshadowed and the light that incinerated Hiroshima with the dropping of the first atomic bomb.
At times it seems our lives and the world are more disfigured than transfigured. These events, and others like them, do not, however, undo or negate the glory of God that fills this world and human life. Instead, they reveal that far too often we are a people “weighed down with sleep.”
Peter, John, and James were also weighed down with sleep. Jesus took them with him and went up on the mountain to pray. While Jesus was praying “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white.” Moses and Elijah were also there talking with Jesus. The three disciples struggled between sleep and wakefulness. “Since they had stayed awake” they saw Jesus’ glory. He revealed himself to Peter, John, and James and in so doing showed them the deepest reality of who they are.
The spiritual journey is always a battle between falling asleep and staying awake, between absence and presence, between darkness and light. Sleepiness is not simply a physical matter; it is a spiritual issue and condition. Spiritual sleep is a form of blindness. It blinds us to the beauty and holiness of the world, other people, and ourselves. Blindness to God’s presence in and the goodness of creation is what allows us to do violence to one another and ourselves.
Peter, John, and James experienced the transfiguration of Christ because they stayed awake despite the weight of sleep. They saw for the first time what has always been. They saw the light of divinity fully manifest in a human being, something a mirror can never reveal.
Peter misunderstood, however. “Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Humanity can never build a dwelling place for God. It is, rather, God who makes humanity the dwelling place of divinity. This is most profoundly revealed in the Transfiguration of Jesus.
The whole of creation participates in the glory of God. Humanity alone, however, is called to the Mount of Transfiguration. It is there that Christ reveals who we are and who, by grace, we are to become.
The Feast of the Transfiguration invites us to wipe the sleep from our eyes, behold what we are, and become what we see.
Selections from Breaking Open the Lectionary: Lectionary Readings in Their Biblical Context for RCIA, Faith Sharing Groups, and Lectors—Cycle C, by Margaret Nutting Ralph, Copyright © 2006 by Margaret Nutting Ralph. Paulist Press, Inc., New York/Mahwah, NJ. Reprinted by permission of Paulist Press, Inc. www.paulistpress.com.
Reflection excerpt from; Interrupting the Silence, Reprinted by permission of Fr. Michael K. Marsh