Sunday, March 16, 2014

Transfiguration in Lent

                                    2nd Sunday of Lent

This year we are in the A cycle of readings which have been employed by the Church ever since the Second Vatican council. In this cycle the first reading for each of the Sundays in Lent marks one of the highlights of the history of the nation of Israel. Last Sunday we had the familiar story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. This Sunday we have the calling of Abraham. Next Sunday, it will be Moses and after that the calling of David.

No one in the history of Israel was more revered by our Lord than Abraham. The highest compliment Jesus can give to someone is to call him a "true son of Abraham." It was Abraham's faith, his willingness to follow the Lord's direction no matter what the cost or sacrifice, that set him apart. In today's reading the Lord tells Abraham to set out into the unknown on a great adventure.

            Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk
            and from your father's house to a land that I will show you.

His mission will be not only to make Israel a great nation, but also to be a "blessing" to "all the communities of the earth."

This reading reminds us of St. Matthew's account today of the Transfiguration of the Lord. Traditionally, the gospel for the first Sunday is Lent is the story of the temptation of our Lord in the desert. In the same way, the Church has always reserved the second Sunday in Lent for the account of the Transfiguration.
Jesus is far along in His mission when the Transfiguration occurs. He has given the Sermon on the Mount, healed the sick, driven out devils, and raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead. In the previous chapter of his gospel Matthew had related how Jesus had fed the multitude with five loaves and two fishes. After this incredible miracle, He asks the disciples, "Who do the crowds say that I am?" Peter answers, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God." Our Lord commends Peter and says, "thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church. But then He reveals the mission of the Christ:

            From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that He must go to Jerusalem
            and suffer many things...and be put to death, and on the third day rise again.

Characteristically, Peter cannot accept this shocking news and our Lord rebukes him--"get behind me Satan"

Immediately after this prophecy of our Lord's suffering and death, Matthew goes to the scene of the Transfiguration where we get a  glimpse of the Resurrection. "Jesus took Peter, James, and John his brother. and led them up a high mountain by themselves," just as He would later do in the Garden of Gethsemane. On the mountain,

            he was transfigured before them,
            his face shone like the sun
            and his clothes became white as light.

Matthew tells us that two other great figures from the history of Israel appeared to Jesus and conversed with Him. In his account St. Luke tells us that Jesus was speaking with them of the "exodus" that He was going to accomplish in Jerusalem. The word "exodus" is full of meaning. Moses led the Israelites out of slavery to the promised land--Jesus was about to do the same for us. Older translations say that Jesus was speaking of "his death, which he was about to fulfill in Jerusalem." 

Finally, a cloud envelops them and they hear a voice just as they did at the Baptism of the Lord saying, "This is my beloved Son; ...listen to Him." The Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus are linked to the covenant that the Lord made with Abraham and his spiritual descendants. We are the true sons and daughters of Abraham when we hear the Word of the Lord and believe.

Today's second reading is from St. Paul's  letter to his disciple, Timothy.  Paul is telling Timothy to "bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God." During Lent we should put ourselves in Timothy's place. Paul's words are meant for all of us.             .

Right before the Transfiguration, after Jesus had spoken of his crucifixion, He told the disciples and us that we must also bear our cross.

            If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross             daily, and follow me. For he who would save his life will lose it; but he who loses             his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man, if he gain the whole             world, but ruin or lose himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, of             him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory..."

This is why our little sacrifices during the forty days of Lent are so meaningful. They are a reminder that it is impossible to stand firm in the Lord without sacrifice of some kind. 

Reading 1. Genesis 12: 1-4a
Reading II. 2 Timothy 1:8b-10
Gospel. Matthew 17: 1-9 (Transfiguration)

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