2nd Sunday of Lent Year A:
Every year on the second Sunday of Lent, the Church gives us the Transfiguration as our gospel passage. It is an interesting passage to get for Lent. We know that Lent is a time of purification, self-denial, and sacrifice. Yet, this gospel is all about the glory of Christ revealed to his disciples. Why a passage on the transfiguration, when a passage on Jesus’ suffering seems more appropriate.
I think it is so easy to focus on Christ in this passage, that we miss out on the role this event had on the lives of the disciples. Notice how the event begins, Jesus takes them up a mountain. Also, notice how the event ends, Jesus takes them back down a mountain. The event itself is spectacular: the disciples get to see Jesus Christ, the Son of God in all his glory. They get to see the prophets. They even get to hear the voice of God the Father speaking from heaven, convincing them that Jesus really is God’s Son. What an unbelievable and exciting event, it must have changed their lives forever. But, what do we find? They returned down the mountain, in the same ordinary way they got up there.
Also, you would think that if the disciples had seen Jesus transfigured on the mountain, they never would have forgotten something so amazing. Yet, we know what happens a little while later on the night when Jesus is arrested. No one stays with Jesus. No one defends him. No one says to the guards, you might as well kill me. I won’t let you take Jesus, I know who he is. I have seen him transfigured, I have heard the voice of God saying he is his only begotten son. Instead, they all flee.
I have been thinking about this passage a lot. In some ways it doesn’t make a lot of sense. It is an amazing and wonderful event. But, why didn’t it change their lives forever? In some ways this event seems a bit like an episode of the Simpsons. Have you ever noticed that in every episode crazy and funny things always happen. Yet, the very next episode begins and nothing is ever different. Bart stays a little boy, Homer never seems to learn anything. It is as if the previous episodes hadn’t happened. Why do the disciples act as though the transfiguration didn’t stay with them?
I think it is as simple as the fact that they forgot about it. No matter how amazing this event must have seemed when they were experiencing it, it didn’t leave a lasting impression on their lives. Rather than letting this be a formative experience that helps them in their life of discipleship they seem to forget about it. And since they forget about it, it doesn’t have a lasting effect in their lives.
Are we all that much different? Speaking from my own experience, I have had many wonderful experiences in my life that were similar to the transfiguration. No, I never saw the heavens opened up quite like in the gospel. But, I have had profound moments of prayer. I have had moving experience, like the day I was ordained a priest. I have had experiences of love and joy with my family and friends. In many ways, God reveals himself to us in these great experiences. But, how often do we remember them? Do we let these amazing experiences affect who we are? Or when we are done with these great experiences, do we live our life just the same as always?
Now, when God gives us these amazing events, we might want to put up our tents and stay there like Peter suggests. We know we cannot do that, we have to continue to live our daily lives. But, the key is that when God touches our lives, he does so in order that we might be able to rely on that experience in difficult times.
No wonder, then, that we come here to Mass every week, or even every day. I think of the Mass as an example of the Transfiguration that happens all the time. Every time we go to Mass Jesus leads us up the mountain. Every time we go to Mass, Jesus is right here before us. We hear to voices of Moses, Elijah, or the other prophets in the Scriptures. We hear the voice of God, in the gospel. We even hear the Father pointing to Jesus when the priest says: Behold the Lamb of God. Then when Mass is done, we walk back down the mountain and back to our regular lives. But, hopefully we are different. Unlike the Simpsons who never seem to change, hopefully our faithful participation at Mass has a lasting effect in our lives so that when we face difficulties we might be able to say and do the right thing.