So as to be more attentive to the graces contained in the readings
of the liturgy, imagine Peter, James and John transfixed by fear as they
experience Jesus’ being transfigured. There is the appearance of a cloud
and a strange voice and then there is just Jesus as if nothing had happened.
They look at each other, but they do not know what happened so there is not
much about which to talk just yet.
There are contacts being made in our readings for this Sunday of Lent. These
are rather unusual events which take some time to unpack. There are strange
yet powerful statements made which have implications for the hearers.
Abram and the three Apostles had to listen to mysterious words
which brought them to the point of trusting or turning. They chose letting
mystery be. We are praying these days of Lent to listen without demanding
clarity and reasons. The implications of the promises to Abram and the implications
for the apostles to what they heard are life changing. Lenten prayer is just
that. There are promises made to us which take our lifetime to change us.
Lenten prayer is waiting, watching, listening and letting mystery, just be.
We call off thoughts awhile and listen, lest we be transfixed with fears,
doubts and turning away.
Abram has been called and has lived while trusting the God who has invited
him. He has left his homeland, but he has a bit of a complaint. Having land
and having children are signs of God’s loving blessing. Abram has neither
and this is how the drama of our First Reading opens.
The voice of God invites Abram to count the stars and then come to know that
his descendents will be even more than all the visible array. Abram makes
both a statement of faith and doubt at the same time. God has told him that
he will possess a great land having many riches. Abram asks reverently about
how he will know. This tension is resolved by the ritual of covenant-making.
The animals are halved and the two parties agreeing to the history of the
relationship, the promises and conditions of the pact, walk between the slain
animals. By doing this gesture of partnership, they are saying to each other,
that if the covenant is broken, the offending partner wishes that he be likewise
split in half. While Abram is in a deep mystical slumber, God passes between
the animals in the form of fire and pledges a great land-deal to Abram and
his many offspring.
The Gospel is Luke’s account of a trance-figuration. Peter, James, and John,
who will be witnesses to an inglorious struggle on the night of his betrayal
and arrest, are present here. They are en-clouded and befuddled by some kind
of trance themselves. While Jesus was praying, Moses and Elijah appeared
speaking with Jesus about the “exodus” or passing through, which was to happen
in Jerusalem. Peter, not knowing exactly what he was saying, proposed their
all staying up on the hill. The “exodus” would take place on another hill
There is glory present as Jesus seems to be trans-formed and there is the
presence of the inglorious “exodus.” There is a voice from heaven announcing
a confirmation of Jesus’ identity as well as a direction to listen to him.
The apostles, as it was with Abram, are asked to make their acts of faith
by trusting the mystery of what they had seen, or think they had seen, and
what they think they heard.
The power of this Gospel is that Jesus, as the divinely-initiated covenant,
walks between the glorious and inglorious. He stands on this hill in contemplation
of the next. He walks between Moses, Elijah, and these three men of the earth.
Instead of animals being slain and halved, Jesus will receive his being slain
as a covenantal sign. Instead of professing fidelity to a pact and declaring
that any unfaithfulness of the covenant would result in being halved, Jesus
will repair the original fracture by being halved himself.
Lately I have heard a classification of movies, “feel-good.” I am attracted
to these kinds of productions. I had a wonderful Jesuit English professor
early in my Jesuit formation who told me that I was a charter member of the
Silver-lining and Happy-ending Society. I was a hopeless Romantic. I sense
that many people are searching for a “Feel-Good” religion or church. Peter
had the idea; build three tents there and let the rest of the world go by.
I could get into that at times.
The Transfiguration as presented by Luke is not a “feel-good” experience.
The call of God to listen to Jesus the beloved is a call to collapse the
tents of dreams, let the cloud of glory lift, allow Jesus to become undazzling,
and head back down the hill heading for Jerusalem. We would love taking the
Jerusalem bypass and enjoy the silver-lined happy ending. There are good
feelings in following Jesus. There are those moments of intimate communion
perhaps. The deep good feeling is our walking with him through our own Jerusalem’s
and this is our fidelity, our act of being made “righteous.”
God has made a covenant with us through the life, death and resurrection
of Jesus. This covenant comes to us with a history, promises and directions.
The history is contained in our Jewish and Christian Scriptures. The promises
are made in terms of the life to come. The direction is that we are to listen
to God’s beloved Son who tells us all that we too, share his being beloved.
“Remember your mercies, Lord, your tenderness
from from ages past.” Psalm 25