Second Sunday of Lent, Year A, March 20, 2011.
[Gen 12:1–4a. Ps 33:4–5, 18–19, 20, 22. 2Tm 1:8b–10. Mt 17:1–9.]
A priest friend of mine told me a story a few years ago about one particular instance of the Kingdom of heaven breaking forth and people being transfigured in just a moment in the everyday stuff of life.
He was coming back to the rectory from the drugstore across the street, dressed in a sport shirt and khakis - his civilian clothes, I guess you would say.
And as he began to step off the curb to cross the street,
a car came careening around the corner at breakneck speed…
And he jumped back on the curb.
And don’t you know, the driver of that car screeched to a halt, realized that there was somebody who had taken a step to cross the street, and he stopped, and smiled, and waved him across.
For that priest, it was a “mountain moment”: it was the children of God recognizing each other and upholding and affirming each other’s dignity!
Later on he told me, “The Kingdom of God’s justice, love, and peace broke through in that moment!”
I kind of laughed at the time, but I’m not laughing now…
Because I have learned to see some of those “mountain moments” in life. And I’ve learned that God’s kingdom of justice, love, and peace does actually break through!
The question for us today, as we listen to this account of the Transfiguration is – when that kingdom comes, when the moment breaks through for us… will we recognize it?
On this Second Sunday of Lent we jump from near the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry – last week we heard about his temptation in the desert – and now we hear about the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor.
But it is good to see the story here, just the week after the Temptation story. Last week, Jesus was kind of “taken away” and tempted in three ways that actually sum up all of our human wants and needs:
any person’s needs: food – bread in unlimited quantities…just change the stones into bread. And the power of life and death… throw yourself down and angels will save you. And power – worldly power… Satan offered all the kingdoms of the world.
That Gospel and Today’s Gospel are both about identity: Last week, the evil ome was paying around with Jesus’ identity. And because Jesus does know who he is, He didn’t give in to Satan.
And now, Jesus takes these three disciples, Peter James and John – the first three he called, and certainly three who we might figure would best benefit from this experience.
Just before this event, we hear Jesus asking the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter calls Jesus the Messiah, the holy one, the anointed one of God… and then Peter tries to prevent Jesus from undergoing his passion.
One well-respected commentator sees Peter as actually attempting to “possess” Jesus, to physically take Him aside and to have Jesus conform to Peter’s concept of Jesus’s identity!
The word for this in the original Greek is: πϱοσλαβόμενος proslambano.
But in Peter’s case we can understand this as a kind of love that is well-meaning and yet imperfect and uninformed.
And now, six days later, Jesus proslambanos them – Jesus takes these three disciples aside to himself and brings them up the mountain.
And that leads us to think about who has possession of us at any given time: Does the world possess us? Does Satan possess us, or do we allow ourselves to be possessed – to be proslambanoed by Jesus?
Jesus takes them up the mountain – to a preview of heaven!
Many people call this mountain the “middle mountain” the one between the mount where Jesus preached the Beatitudes and the mount Golgotha, the place of the skull – the place of his death.
When the disciples see the glory of the transfiguration, they hardly know what to do, and they’re afraid! But Peter again musters up a little courage and offers to build three tents on the mountain.
He wants to stay!
But you know and I know that we don’t stay in mountain places and situations like this Transfiguration for very long.
We have these peak experiences and we move on and down… down to the million mundane little details of everyday lives.
To the trivia and the little stuff that tends to bog us down and call us back to be possessed, to be proslambanoed if you will, by the things and the cares of this world.
But that’s not totally bad, because it is in the world that we were created, and it is in the world that we are redeemed.
It is in the world that God calls us to greatness as His sons and daughters. So we should not run from the world – it is where we live and move and have our being at present. But it’s a far cry from heaven.
Even the disciples who see the glory of the Lord in this way; they’re scarcely able to tell us what they see.
They use the words like and as: Jesus face shone “like” the sun… his clothes white “as” light…
This gives us an idea, but it is not really adequate.
They had no words and no comparable experiences to tell us directly about this glory!
It was literally too great to describe.
And do they understand? NO.
When Jesus comes to His passion, Peter betrays Jesus three times.
James and John?: They ask for seats on the right and the left of Jesus!
They have no idea, no clue…
And if it doesn’t quite fit in with the mundane nature of the rest of human experience, we can understand.
The transfiguration is the “exception” to the rule.
It is a moment in time that is “out of time.”
It is a breaking forth of the kingdom of justice love and peace that really is already and not yet… it is a preview, a glimpse at a glory insofar as we can behold it, of what it is like to be in heaven for us in this fallen world.
It would take a lot of time for these three to realize what had happened to them on that mountain.
That’s probably why Jesus told them to tell the vision to no one until after He had been resurrected…
Until they had the full story of the Jesus who had overcome the world.
And it is important to note that in the fear that followed the voice of the Father…
It is Jesus Himself who goes over and bends down to them.
It is Jesus himself who touches them and bids them to rise… to rise up and accept their dignity. Jesus Himself who tells them, “Rise and do not be afraid.”
The Gospel tells us that when they looked up, they saw “no one else but Jesus alone”
I think that is the great challenge, the great lesson of the Transfiguration: We have to realize that in all of our lowliness, in all of the “dust” that we are.. dust that we recalled when we accepted ashes on Ash Wednesday…
that Jesus reaches out and down to us, to touch us, to free us from fear and to empower us… as we heard in our second reading, to “bear our hardships for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.”
If we accept the message of the Gospel, the commandment to love not as we love, but as Jesus himself loves…
Then we, too, will be the beneficiaries of the Transfiguration.
We too, will rise and see in everyone and everything around us:
No one… but Jesus alone.