2nd Sunday of Lent (C) - Encountering a changed humanity gives us hope
Why does Jesus take Peter, John, and James up the mountain to witness his transfiguration? Up until this point in the public ministry of Jesus, it has been pretty easy for the disciples to follow Jesus. They have witnessed miracles of healings and the multiplication of the loaves and the fish to feed a great crowd. They saw him raise a widow’s young son from the dead and Jairus’s daughter. They themselves were given a share in his authority and sent on mission, curing diseases everywhere. Perhaps the only thing that really shook the disciples up until this point was being caught in a storm at sea with Jesus. Jesus was asleep in the boat. The boat was taking in water, and they were in danger. They woke Jesus saying, “We are perishing!” Jesus rebuked the wind and the waves and asked them, “Where is your faith?” They witnessed all of these amazing things, but still do not know who Jesus is. The episode of the Transfiguration comes soon after the first time Jesus reveals to the disciples that he will be a Messiah who will suffer. It comes right after he tells them what is necessary for them to be his disciples. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” At the Transfiguration, Jesus manifests his glory - shows them who he is - he reveals his identity - that he is divine - to prepare the disciples for the cross. The Transfiguration shows the disciples that the Passion leads to the glory of the Resurrection. It is going to look really bad on Good Friday. But Jesus is showing them how he will live the Passion. Jesus is secure in his identity as the beloved Son. No matter how painful and difficult things get, the Father is with him. That is how he can say at Gethsemene, “not my will but your will be done.” So when things look really bad - when I am spit upon and beaten and nailed to the cross, God is still with you. Overcome by the awesomeness of the experience on Mount Tabor, Peter has plans and ideas. He wants to build something to capture this experience. That may be good, but he is missing the point. His rambling is interrupted by the Father who focusses him on the identity of Jesus: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” Another way to say “Listen” is “obey” or “follow”. Without the certainty of his identity and presence with us, all of our plans and ideas cannot sustain us in the difficulties of life. We won’t continue to follow. We can stay with the difficulty - we can carry the cross - when we know God is still with us. His presence gives us hope. This is how John the beloved disciple and Mary were able to stay at with Jesus all the way to the crucifixion. They were certain of Jesus’ identity.
The sign of his presence is someone whose face has been transformed by the experience of the cross - someone who is not crushed by their circumstances because they are certain of the presence of Christ. A fellow I know, a man of deep faith, recently lost a son to suicide. Friends who went to the funeral and the lunch that followed were struck that even though this was a tragic event filled with pain, no one wanted to leave. A friend described the strong attraction she felt to stay with them and to sacrifice for them. Why? There was a hope there stronger than the tragedy. How can it be unless there is a promise that the life of the one who died is not over? Christ was recognized there in the faith of the boy’s parents and their friends. Another couple of faith - recently married, was having trouble conceiving a child. After a couple of visits to the doctor, the doctor, struck by something different in the couple, said to them somewhat puzzled, “You don’t seem desperate. Most couples who come in here are desperate.” The wife replied, “Doctor, I really want to be a mother, but the hope of my life is not in being a mother.” The doctor saw a certainty in the woman not dependent on her circumstances. The doctor had an encounter with Christ through her. She was a glimmer of hope and a “mother” to him in the life of faith. The experience gave the woman a greater certainty of faith that Christ is with her even while she is carrying the cross. This other person could see Him in her.
Who are the people in your life that radiate the light of faith? These are not just great people to admire but people to follow. Do they make us want to know who they know and follow who they follow? Friendships are good but not ends in themselves. They are given for us to know Christ and his presence. Jesus gave Peter, John, and James the experience of the Transfiguration as a promise of the life he wished to share with them. Awakening this desire in them, giving them this certainty, is what would enable them to stay with Jesus as he and they carried the cross. May we not be attached to our plans and ideas for a “successful” Lent but listen to the voice of Jesus and recognize his presence among us, so we can experience the joy and glory of the resurrection.