SECOND SUNDAY OF LENT (2020)
Psalms 33:4-5, 19-19, 20, 22
2 Timothy 1:8b-10
You will remember that in last week’s gospel story it was the devil who, in Jesus’ last temptation, took Jesus up “a very high mountain” in order that the devil might show Him “all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence,” and he promised to gift them all to Jesus if He would just bow down and worship the devil. As you remember, that did not go well for the devil. In this week’s gospel, it is Jesus who takes some of His closest friends, Peter, James, and John, “up a high mountain” in order that they might catch a glimpse of Jesus’ “magnificence.” Jesus’ “face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light” – He was transfigured before their very eyes. Perhaps Jesus wanted to give the core group some encouragement for what lie ahead? What we do know is that it was nothing the disciples could brag about, for they were ordered not to “tell the vision to anyone until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.” What we do know is that the experience wasn’t able to prevent one of the disciples from betraying Jesus, and another from fleeing from Jesus, when Jesus needed him the most. Maybe, just maybe, the experience was enough to keep one disciple, John, by the side of Jesus’ mother at the foot of the cross. For that alone, the trip up the mountain was not a total loss.
But they were not the only ones on the mountain, for we are told that Moses and Elijah also appeared to them, the Law and the Prophets, talking with Jesus like He was an old friend. Their presence added a certain weight to the event. It was only when the voice boomed from heaven – “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” – that the party atmosphere turned frightening, and Jesus’ friends fell to the ground. Before the booming voice of God things were going along so smoothly that Peter could say to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” As in the other three gospel versions of this event, Peter was interested in staying right there, in the middle of this reunion of old friends. What could have possibly been more pleasant? When Jesus calmed them down, however, it was time, and necessary, to go back down the mountain, where the disciples were already told that things were not going to go well.
Did fear prevent the disciples from hearing what God was saying to them, for the booming voice from heaven was surely speaking to them, and to us: “Listen to him.” Listen to Jesus, God tells Peter, James and John, yet the gospels are replete with examples of times when they were not really listening to Jesus, times when they failed to truly understand what Jesus was trying to teach them. At the virtual beginning of this Lenten season, God’s request of Jesus’ disciples is good Lenten advice for us, for we live in a world where there are many voices that are not Jesus, trying, as in last week’s gospel, to lure us away from doing what is right, doing what Jesus would want us to do.
Listening is not the same as hearing, for listening requires quiet, prayerful moments, where it can be more an action of the heart than of our ears. It is no doubt a moment that is described in our first reading, a moment when Abram can hear God telling him to do what, at face value, might seem unreasonable – leave the home of your ancestors and father “and I will make of you a great nation.” Abram will soon become Abraham, the Father of Great Faith! As Pope Francis has stated about today’s gospel: “This invitation from the Father [to listen] is very important. We, the disciples of Jesus, are called to be people who listen to his voice and take his words seriously. To listen to Jesus, we must be close to him, [we must] follow him…. We all need to go apart, to ascend the mountain in a space of silence, to find ourselves and better perceive the voice of the Lord. This we do in prayer.”
Like the disciples, however, we cannot wallow in these prayerful, quiet, grace-filled moments; we must come down from the mountain. To be bathed in the light of Christ, as we are at our baptism, to enjoy the privilege of communion or adoration, are all good things, but they are not meant to keep us restrained in church, we are not meant to “set up tents” and just stay there where everything feels safe and holy. Those graced moments are meant to give us the courage to go down the mountain and face the crowds of humanity, even when they might be antagonistic, even when they are less than friendly. Pope Francis goes on to say that “encounter with God in prayer inspires us anew to ‘descend the mountain’ and return to the plain where we meet many brothers [and sisters] weighed down by fatigue, sickness, injustice, ignorance, faithlessness, and poverty, both material and spiritual. To these brothers [and sisters] in difficulty, we are called to bear the fruit of that experience with God, by sharing the grace we have received.”
Pope Francis goes on to say that when we hear the Word of God, and “when we listen to the Word of Jesus and carry it in our heart, this Word grows. Do you know how it grows? By giving it to the other! The Word of Christ grows in us when we proclaim it, when we give it to others, [when we live it with our lives]! And this is what Christian life is. It is a mission for the whole Church, for all the baptized, for us all: listen to Jesus, and offer him to others.”
On this Second Sunday of Lent, may we take the time that is needed to listen to the Lord Jesus. May we listen with our hearts, and not just our ears. May the light of Jesus that shined so brightly on the mountain in today’s gospel, illuminate the darkest part of our lives, that we might become a light for others, giving them hope in their despair, truth in the midst of falsehood, and Christ’s grace that can free them from all that could harm them.