SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT (March 17, 2019)
In the past I have spoken about different aspects of the Transfiguration. This year I thought it might be helpful to speak to the message itself. What is the point of the Transfiguration?
After the miraculous, dazzling brilliance and conversation between Jesus and Moses and Elijah, Peter, who seems always good for a blurt, said, “Let’s build three tents;” that is, let’s not just stand here; let’s do something. Immediately, the group was enveloped in a cloud of divine presence, and the words here repeat the father’s words at Jesus’ baptism. Jesus is named the beloved son of the Father. But, there is an additional line here at the transfiguration that is not found at the baptism. It is recorded in all three synoptic Gospels: “Listen to him.” The father ignored Jesus’ blurt. He simply says, “Listen to him.”
Then, Jesus was alone with the three apostles with the Father’s words still ringing in their ears. The father had not said, “Look at him and the splendor of his luminous body.” The father did not have a list of things for them to do. The Father was not interested in housing. He simply said, “Listen to him.”
The crisp command, “Listen to him” is the climax of the transfiguration and the key to its meaning. When we stop to listen, we realize that “Listen to him” is the one and only directive we hear from the Father in the entire New Testament. The Transfiguration was not for the personal gratification of Jesus and the apostles, but that we might learn the supreme importance of listening. As with Jesus, the life of glory will follow as day follows night.
This command to listen was not a vague mandate, but it referred to Jesus’ recent teaching that his career would come agonizingly to an end. Instead of being crowned king of Israel, as many had hoped, he would “suffer greatly, be rejected, be killed and on the third day be raised.” They need to listen to the fact that the path to glory in following him would not likely come in this life. Jesus taught that by his own words and his own example.
This explains why Moses and Elijah were on the mountain. Years ago, they too had been rejected by their fellow Israelites - just as Jesus. The teaching of Jesus and his rejection was foreshadowed in their lives. Now, they are glorified. John, the beloved disciple would spend his lifetime of ministry dedicated to writing what he had heard and seen, so that we might be able to listen
What should we serious Christians learn from this event? First and primarily, we need to listen to Jesus’ words of love for us. Then, after listening to his message, we spread his and our love to our neighbors.
We begin to listen, first, by being quiet. We need to stop talking. Then, we need to be silently present to the events recorded about Jesus’ life. We need to listen to the words Jesus spoke – and, more profoundly, be present to Jesus’ wordless presence within us. The truth of his life, of his words, of his simple presence emerges within us and transforms us.
Jesus was transfigured before Peter, James and John. In this Eucharist, Jesus brings the power of Transfiguration to us in the transfiguration of bread and wine into himself. We welcome him. We are then sent forth to transfigure those whose lives we touch. A wonderful Lenten practice.