The Gospel – Matthew 17: 1-9
Mountaintops have often been symbols for peak spiritual experiences. Moses, the freeing lawgiver, and Elijah, the wonder-working prophet, met God on Mt.Sinai or Mt.Horeb (two names for the same mountain). At Sinai the Hebrew people had been wanderers who lived in tents. A tent became the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s sheltering presence in the wilderness. As they traveled, God went with them, a cloud by day and fire by night (Exodus 40). The booths that Peter wants to build symbolize this sheltering presence of God. (Sunday by Sunday, Feb. 28, 1999 from Good Ground Press http://www.goodgroundpress.com )
Is your experience of God’s presence this Lent more like a mountaintop or a journey through a valley – or desert – a cloud? What does it mean to you to have God’s favor rest on Jesus – on us?
All of Lent is about either preparing for baptism or learning to live our baptism more fully. We are called to listen to Jesus – to journey with our God – to grow in holiness. All of this will mean a share in God’s glory – God’s own life, but it will also mean an embrace of suffering. Through baptism we all share in the life of the glorified Christ. This life is the blessing of holiness, promised to Abraham by God and made possible through the transformative grace of Jesus’ suffering and death.
From Living Liturgy, Year A, p.68:
Christian living is about being touched by Jesus so that the fleeting moments of glory are made permanent in bettering the lives of others. ‘Coming down from the mountain’ may be a metaphor for the need to take up the ministry of Jesus. Listening to Jesus and being touched by him should draw us outside of ourselves – and our ‘comfort zones.’ We don’t build tents: we feed the hungry, cloth the naked, touch the downhearted, visit the lonely, encourage the discouraged, etc. In this way Christ touches others through us. This kind of living is eminently practical and requires a real and constant dying to self. Why do we try to live this way? Because we have great hope in the outcome: helping to create a better world here (God’s kingdom) and forever.
Consider the following paradoxes:
1) The account of the Transfiguration is sandwiched between two predictions of his passion and death.
2) Peter, James, and John were also the three who were with Jesus in Gethsemane.
3) Jesus tells his disciples not to mention this vision until after his suffering.
The image of Christ transfigured is that of Christ being glorified after the suffering and death.
How do you understand what is called the paschal mystery?
Here are some thoughts from Ronald Rolheiser, The Holy Longing:
The paschal mystery is the mystery of how we, after undergoing some kind of death, receive new life and new spirit. Jesus, in both his teaching and in his life, showed us a clear paradigm for how this should happen. “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies it yields a rich harvest.” (John 12:24) These words of Jesus define the paschal mystery: namely, in order to come to fuller life and spirit we must constantly be letting go of present life and spirit. Terminal death is a death that ends life and ends possibilities. Paschal death is a death that, while ending one kind of life, opens the person undergoing it to receive a deeper and richer form of life.
Daily we undergo this paschal mystery.
In more colloquial language it is this:
1. Name your deaths (Good Friday).
2. Claim your births (Easter).
3. Grieve what you have lost and adjust to the new reality (the 40 days after Easter).
4. Do not cling to the old; let it ascend and give you its blessing (Ascension).
5. Accept the spirit of the life that you are in fact living (Pentecost). (The Holy Longing, pp. 145-148)
Have you ever experienced a transfiguration? Have you ever seen a plain girl become a radiant beauty when she is seen through the eyes of love? Have you ever seen a timid, ordinary person become a ‘lion’, a hero, when someone was in need of help? Have you ever noticed a homely face become remarkably attractive as they share their enthusiasm for something they love? Have you ever met someone who appeared to be rather ordinary only to discover how extraordinary they really are? Have you ever felt tired, discouraged, and alone only to quietly, but deeply begin to feel God’s presence and care? Afterwards, you can’t really doubt that it was from God, even though you may still not understand it. These experiences may help us to understand a little better the gospel experience. For a moment the three disciples experience Jesus in the complete union with God that he is.
It was a short vision of how things really are at their core. Yet, Jesus will go on to suffer. The Transfiguration was one way to show that Jesus’ suffering would not negate his divinity. Suffering is not foreign to the Father or to Jesus. (John Foley, S.J. “Spirituality of the Readings,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
In a culture where honor and shame were everything, this story confirms to Jesus’ followers that no matter how shamefully he may be treated by the ‘powers of this world’ his very being is filled with God’s goodness and glory. It is in this truth, this reality, that Jesus steadfastly trusted. His faith and trust paid off: God restored to him his ultimate true honor in a way that no human ever could have. The crucified one was the one God raised from the dead. In our very different culture, where self-reliance is highly valued, it is equally challenging to trust God especially when we feel we are to be fully in control of our life and destiny. We, too, must realize that our hope also resides in the faithful love of our God who is with us in good times and bad. (John Pilch, “Historical Cultural Context,” http://liturgy.slu.edu )
The disciples are asked not to talk about this experience, this vision. It is only in the light of the Resurrection that they will begin to understand the whole truth about Jesus. The crucifixion will be a scandal that is only be undone by the shining light of the resurrected Jesus offering to all his peace. (Share the Word, Feb. 28, 1999)